The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), one of the first sub-Saharan African countries to recognize the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has between 400,000 and 500,000 people living with HIV, and recent USAID reports suggest that this number is growing. ICAP’s work in DRC was launched in April 2010 to focus on three areas: health systems strengthening, the integration of HIV and TB services, and adult and pediatric HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs.
Several thousand miles and a continent away, Central Asia is experiencing its own set of unique challenges as its health care systems continue to evolve after the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. The HIV epidemic throughout the region, while with lower overall HIV prevalence in the general population than in sub-Saharan Africa, is characterized by an alarming increase in the annual number of new infections. High rates of injection drug users and a growing migrant population who lack access to health care also contribute to the rapid spread of HIV. The new ICAP team in Central Asia will focus its work on providing technical assistance to strengthen facility-based HIV prevention, care, and support services, as well as to enhance strategic information systems.
On March 11, Anna Deryabina, ICAP’s regional project director for Central Asia, and Faustin Malele, ICAP country director for DRC, described to an overflowing room of faculty and students at the Mailman School of Public Health the most pressing issues they face as they develop these new activities. Malele noted that DRC struggles with a weak public health system and relies heavily on international faith-based organizations to deliver a large proportion of health services. Deryabina pointed to the fragile health infrastructure as a main obstacle throughout Central Asian countries. However, both speakers expressed their great enthusiasm in tackling the challenges ahead in carrying out their respective programs, from staffing the new country offices to collaborating with the governmental and community organizations in the areas.