For me, the whole reason to do health research is to figure out
how to make healthcare work better. I wanted to know what would
work. I ended up in global health research (As an English major!
Who hates statistics and math!) because the issue of how to save
the lives of children in the poorest parts of the world was
critically important to me. I wanted to tackle big, giant problems
killing children and I wanted to know what solutions would really
make a difference.
I wanted to figure out how to best care for children with a
really complicated disease who are growing up the poorest parts of
the world. If you can create a healthcare system that can do that,
you can do anything. That's why I do research.
This week has been a really exciting step in seeing those dreams
come into fruition. For years, I have been struggling with the
challenge of how to know which families in Kenya are having the
most problems with maintaining HIV therapy for their children. We
know it's a major challenge to have a child taking 3-4 different
medicines two days a week for the rest of their life, and we need
to know how we can help families with that challenge. We have
studied this like crazy in Kenya. Now, we are starting to look at
the rest of the world's HIV programs.
I chair the global consortium of programs providing HIV care for
children (called IeDEA), and we want to figure out a consistent way
to measure children's adherence to HIV medicines for HIV care
programs around the world. This week's exciting step for that has
been to test out the procedures we have been developing in Kenya,
and to see how they do when you use them at other sites in East
Africa, South Africa, and Asia.
Launching this new project at the Rahima Moosa Children's
Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa has been ridiculously fun.
All week, my program manager and I have been doing training
sessions here in Johannesburg and learning about this clinical
system -- all to get ready to launch an HIV medication monitoring
They have a lot more resources than our clinics in Kenya, but
they also serve a very poor population of children and their
caregivers. Spending time in the largest child HIV clinic here in
Johannesburg feels like home; bring me to the children and families
struggling with HIV in the poorest parts of the world, and I am
among my people. (And I can speak to these families in English!
Such a delight for explaining things!) The South African clinicians
and I have bonded over our shared challenges.
Johannesburg has more resources than Kenya (And roads! And wine!
And shopping!), but they also still have a major HIV problem here.
Among the pregnant women coming to the largest mother-baby hospital
to have their babies, 1 in 3 has HIV. ONE in THREE pregnant
mothers. HIV is still everywhere. Passing this terrible virus into
the bodies of beautiful babies and children.
I love new ideas, and of course, new ideas are born daily when I
am among my kindred hearts. We keep dreaming up more and more ways
to collaborate across Eastern and Southern Africa to help our
families. We struggle with so many of the same challenges. And we
want to answer questions about what will work and about how to
provide better care for families with children with HIV.
Long days, but fun, fun, fun.