In Tanzania, over 114,000 pregnant women are estimated to suffer from HIV/AIDS but many cannot afford treatment. Women with HIV/AIDS who live near African Barrick Gold’s (ABG) Tulawaka mine in northwest Tanzania face additional hurdles, says Stephen Kisakye, Corporate Manager, Community Relations at ABG. “The hospitals are too far to visit or many women lack transportation to get to them,” he says.
Tulawaka is located in the Biharamulo district, a rural nexus of trade and commerce near the borders of Burundi and Uganda. The area is an expansion site for an ABG partnership with the Benjamin Mkapa HIV/AIDS Foundation, named after the former Tanzanian president of the same name, which recruits and trains health-care workers in maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment through its Fellows program. The program also hosts community outreach clinics that teach youth about HIV/AIDS and encourages them to be screened for infection.
“The company partnered with the Mkapa Foundation to leave a positive, sustainable health-care legacy in the neighboring communities that lasts well beyond Tulawaka’s closure,” Kisakye says.
The program also teaches health-care workers through a mentorship process how to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, and in maternal and child health care. ABG will contribute more than $318,000 over two years to help the Fellows program expand into the Biharamulo district.
As part of the donation, ABG has also agreed to build a maternity ward, an obstetric operating room and staff housing at two of the busiest health centers in Biharamulo. Facilities were chosen for expansion based on volume and the ability to provide maternal-child care at a more elevated level.
Since April, 30 health-care workers have been trained. These fellows, together with more than 20 other existing staff, will continue to receive periodic coaching and mentorship by Mkapa Fellows alumni.
Six of the fellows and six district health staff who received training under the program will continue to work at the two health centers in Biharamulo.“The skills acquired by the doctors and health-care workers, along with the construction and provision of equipment for the health center additions, will eliminate the need to refer women to hospitals 60 or more kilometers away,” Kisakye says.
Dr. Ellen Mkondya-Senkoro, CEO of the Benjamin Mkapa HIV/AIDS Foundation and a doctor by trade, says the ABG partnership is expected to impact 240,000 people in Biharamulo. Although the program’s purpose is to broaden treatment of HIV/AIDS, it also focuses on maternal and child health care, all of which is provided at no cost to the community.
To prevent mother-to-child transmission, a comprehensive approach is used. The health-care workers counsel and educate pregnant and nonpregnant women on HIV testing and family planning. Health-care workers administer antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to pregnant women and newborns, and teach mothers how to feed their babies to prevent transmission. The program also supports women living with HIV/AIDS after childbirth by treating them with ARV therapy, which is provided by the government at no cost, making it safe to breastfeed.
“Treatment of HIV/AIDS requires ARV therapy which has some side-effects that need to be managed closely,” Mkondya-Senkoro says. “To complicate matters, if individuals stop their treatment, whether due to a lack of transportation or finances, there is a risk the disease could gain resistance to treatment.”
By constructing and equipping the obstetric operating rooms, pregnant mothers will get access to emergency services during delivery, such as Caesarean section, which will reduce complications during delivery and diminish the probability of mothers passing HIV to their babies.
In the mentorship portion of the Fellows program, program alumni teach new health-care workers the integrated management approach to adult illness. Everything from HIV testing to counseling, follow-up, ARV administration and side-effect management is explored. Health-care workers are also taught to look for opportunistic infections and how to treat them.
“We believe that this partnership between ABG and the Mkapa Foundation will help to fundamentally change the lives of thousands by decreasing the obstacles for anyone that seeks HIV/AIDS treatment and access to health care,” Kisakye says.