The impact of an HIV/AIDS vocational training project in Liberia can be assessed by the ultimate measure: life itself.
“There are children of HIV mothers living today who would not have seen their first birthdays [without the training],” says Elizabeth Mulbah, a member of the Rotary Club of Sinkor, Montserrado County, Monrovia, who delivered a lecture for health care providers about HIV/AIDS during the vocational training team’s five-day workshop in 2012.
The goal of the team — comprised of individuals from the Los Altos Rotary AIDS Project in California, USA; the Rotary Club of Sinkor; St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia; Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, and the Center for HIV Information at the University of California, San Francisco — was to increase maternal HIV/AIDS services and to improve the quality of care in Liberian clinics.
Nearly 60 health care workers in Montserrado and neighboring Bomi counties learned techniques to prevent mother-child transmission of HIV and to improve their ability to diagnose and treat infected women. They also were taught how to pass along the information to other health care workers.
Now, a Rotary Foundation global grant is facilitating an expansion of the project to other parts of Liberia.
Mulbah says that technology played a crucial role in the outcome of the 2012 training. PowerPoint presentations and a computer lab were used to communicate messages effectively, and participants were given flash drives with the latest information about HIV/AIDS.
“They took this learning back to their clinics and conducted much more effective workshops for pregnant women,” she adds.
Rich Casey, president of the Los Altos Rotary AIDS Project, brought computers to Liberia for the training. Even though the group was sleeping in an area protected by guards, robbers broke in one night and stole every computer but one. The workshop went on nonetheless, and proved a success.
Both before and after training, participants were tested on their medical knowledge, and the post-training test scores jumped nearly 20 percent.
And more women are receiving antenatal care, Mulbah says. Husbands now accompany their wives to maternal clinics, and follow-up visits to clinics by people who have AIDS have increased.
The importance of projects like this one will be highlighted once again with the observance of World AIDS Day, on 1 December. According to the United Nations about 2,000 Liberians died of AIDS in 2014 and roughly 33,000 people out of the country’s population of 4.3 million have been infected by the HIV virus; the majority live in urban areas like Monrovia, the country’s capital.
Following the success of the 2012 project, Casey helped procure a $192,500 Rotary Foundation global grant to expand the training to other areas of Liberia. But last year’s Ebola outbreak put the project on hold, and only now is it starting to be implemented.
During the earlier project, Casey had been particularly pleased by the way that the various groups and their members – including Dr. Arthur Ammann, founder of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention and one of the world’s leading pediatric immunologists – came together to plan the workshop a year in advance to achieve the best results.
“It was a good example of Rotary working well with other organizations,” he says.
On the final day of that inaugural workshop, Mulbah handed out certificates of completion to the participants.
“I felt excited and grateful,” she says. “I was very thankful, believing that our mothers and sisters infected by HIV would now receive improved care, and that there was increased hope and opportunity for life without HIV/AIDS for their unborn children.”
Learn how to apply for a Rotary Foundation grant