UGANDA| AIDS| DRUGS
Susan Atuhuura, a Ugandan has won an award at the 2020 global AIDS conference currently underway in the United States. She was announced one of the four winners of the AIDS 2020 operational and implementation research in differentiated service delivery award at the summit in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Atuhuura, who has been involved in work around AIDS for five years, was awarded after the International AIDS Society and Merck Sharpe & Dahme selected her piece of work as one of the winning projects.
Her effort was inspired by the UN's 90-90-90 targets on AIDS. Developed in 2015, the targets are designed to facilitate the end of the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The targets include getting 90% of all people living with HIV around the world to know their status and ensuring that 90% of all persons diagnosed with HIV infection receive sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020. The other target is ensuring that 90% of the people receiving drugs achieve viral suppression.
Atuhuura, who works with Spectrum Uganda Initiatives, a local organization, together with her colleagues, devised an innovative approach to try to get 90% of the people enrolled on drugs to achieve viral load suppression.
"We realized that the country and indeed the whole world is not doing well on the third 90 target which is about viral load suppression. Because of the pill burden, many stop talking drugs. The project targeted mainly men because of their lifestyles and sexual behavior," Atuhuura said.
Under the project, ART (antiretroviral therapy) adherence clubs were set up in Kampala, Hoima, Masindi, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Jinja and Mukono districts. A total of 71 people diagnosed with HIV were enrolled into adherence clubs. The 74 were managed at hospitals.
"We wanted to gauge adherence levels between the two groups. We created clubs of less than ten people and assigned each a government health worker. The clubs helped them to get timely advice from the health workers on the side effects on the drugs," Atuhuura added.
The clubs were managed in communities and the health workers would give members more drugs during face to face meetings.
"We asked the people to choose the place where they wanted to meet. They were checked again and progress monitored and psychosocial issues handled at their meetings. They supported each other and the health worker helped them to deal with some of the challenges," Atuhura stated.
The project ran between 2018 and 2019. The 71 men had achieved viral suppression at the end of the project. But the 74 who were handled at hospitals did not achieve viral suppression. Atuhuura said some of the 74 people could not be traced.
"We realized that the community based approach was key in realizing viral suppression and retention on treatment. Of course, the government health workers liked the idea but are not facilitated to manage clients in that way," she added.
WINNING IN COVID TIMES
This year's AIDS conference was conducted online because of COVID-19. Atuhuura said she was communicated to about the award on Tuesday. Her name was also published on the conference website.
Other winners under the same category include Bao Vu (Vietnam), Geoffrey Fatti (South Africa) and Liesbet Ohler (South Africa). Rose Magala Nabatanzi from Makerere won a fellowship. Others received grants and other awards.