July 23, 2014

Reducing transmission of HIV in crisis

Paul Gimson, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation’s SPRINT Initiative, talks on how SPRINT delivers its services to reduce transmission of HIV.

IPPF is at the International Aids Conference and presenting SPRINT at a Scientific Development Workshop today.

Emergency or crisis by definition is a sudden and usually unforeseen event that calls for immediate measures to minimize its adverse consequences.

Reproductive health services are often neglected or ignored in humanitarian emergencies, a time when services are most needed yet are not prioritised or recognised by key humanitarian responders. For many women and girls, this would mean the difference between life and death.

Established in 2007 and supported by the Australian Government, the SPRINT Initiative (Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Programme in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations) ensures access to essential lifesaving SRH services for women, men and children in times of crises.

We found that one of the main gaps of Reproductive Health components in emergencies is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. SPRINT actually has been working to ensure the establishment of referral systems for pregnant women to have access to PMTCT (Prevention Mother to Child Transmission) treatment in crisis and post crisis settings in all regions which is Africa, South Asia and East and South East Asia and Oceania as this activity is one of the main objectives outlined in MISP (Minimum Initial Service Package) in SPRINT.

MISP for Reproductive Health is a priority set of life-saving activities to be implemented at the onset of every humanitarian crisis. SPRINT has benchmarked MISP with international standard set by the SPHERE humanitarian charter, the IASC (Inter Agency Standing Committee) Health Cluster Guide and CERF life-saving criteria and incorporated the component for HIV-STI Interventions under Objective 3 in MISP- Reducing Transmission of HIV. This includes ensuring a safe and rational blood transfusion is in place, standard precautions are practiced and making available free condoms (male and female).

Looking back on my trips to Africa and feedbacks from in-country partners on SPRINT, I feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that SPRINT is reaching its goals in almost all our emergency responses in the Africa region particularly in Uganda, Central African Region, Ethiopia and Kenya.

SPRINT made its first marks in Africa last year when we delivered HIV-related services of . We managed to find and train a community resource person on HIV case management, we succeeded in assisting to equip the health service center or outreach to practice standard precautions in HIV interventions. We also have done numerous HIV testing and counselling services. Other activities that have been part of MISP are the treatment of STI and HIV, awareness campaign on HIV/STI, also Gender Based Violence- HIV issues and provision of male and female condoms.

When we responded to tsunami and earthquake in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands in May 2013, we deployed similar HIV-STI interventions activities. I remember hearing many heart-warming stories of SPRINT at work time and one compelling story is Andrew’s, a registered nurse at Lata Hospital in Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands. He was sent by Ministry of Health to work at a clinic that served 3000 affected people in the disaster with no prior experience working in disasters and a little knowledge in SRH.

As part of his job, he had to go for many different camps providing health services. He told our team on how he worked with Solomon Islands Planned Parenthood Association (SIPPA) on health messages about rape and STI/HIV. He told us that many girls were forced to have sex and out of fear, they obliged. These girls then come to Andrew for emergency pills but instead of just pills, he gave them condoms and educated them about STIs and places available in that affected area that they could go for treatment and services.

Another story was from Leslie Sury, a 34-year old MOH nurse who has spent 8 years working at Lata Hospital, Santa Cruz. Leslie had never worked in an emergency response before so during the response Leslie partnered with SIPPA and gave SRH awareness sessions about STIs and other health problems.

Amazingly, she learnt many new things during the crisis such as the pregnancy rate was high, STI cases were also on the rise and teenage pregnancy was increasing. That was how she understood how emergency contraceptive pills worked. And she realized that people in her community didn’t know about family planning and they used use funny names for condoms or when talking about male and female reproductive health systems, she learnt how need to separate men and women so that they were not embarrassed.

SPRINT responded to 11 emergency responses in 2013 and continues to be seen by major stakeholders, donors and governments as a relevant, significant and increasingly important actor in ensuring and improving access to SRH services in crises.

That is the main reason why we are here at this AIDS Conference, so we can share best practice, our experiences and lessons in delivering key results on SPRINT’s objectives.