Born Free of HIV in West Africa

Mar 26, 2013

A vulnerable sector of the Malian population


GAIA Vaccine Foundation is launching a new program which is primarily focused on HIV prevention, HIV testing and access to care for the most vulnerable sector of the Malian population – young women and men, especially teenagers. The decision to focus on youth follows an evaluation of the impact of our programs that was performed with your support in 2011. We recently determined that there has been a steadily increasing incidence of new HIV infections among girls and women presenting at our clinic with their first pregnancy.

This increase occurred despite our ‘village-wide’ focus on HIV. So, what we were doing was not reaching women and young girls at risk. For 2013, we’re going to focus on this especially vulnerable group and therefore plan to:

  • Develop targeted prevention tools for young men and young mothers
  • Reach out to young mothers to reduce their rate of HIV acquisition.
  • Provide incentives to get tested, participate in education, and use condoms.
  • Educate: hire expert “youth” peer educators for the new program
  • Use the nutrition program for HIV+ mothers and their families as a model; develop a similar program for teenagers and very young mothers.

These sessions will also address the topic of cervical cancer and HPV.  We have a new focus on cervical cancer in addition to HIV/AIDS because Cervical Cancer is a big killer of women in West Africa.

GAIA is lending its expertise in field site outreach to help with the distribution of available doses of cervical cancer vaccines.  Right now in Mali, amidst a political crisis, there are 33,000 doses of the HPV vaccine, that can’t be distributed because public health dollars are supporting the military instead. However, the vaccine is perishable, and time is running out. If not utilized within the next few months, the vaccine and with it the possibility of more than 10,000 lives, will be wasted.

We have expert fieldworkers ready to distribute the vaccine, under the supervision of local healthcare providers. 11,000 adolescents will be vaccinated with one of the two vaccines that is currently approved for cervical cancer prevention. This vaccine is safe (no significant adverse events) and nearly 100% effective.  (For detailed information please see our HPV Vaccine project posted on GlobalGiving).

GAIA VF’s vision for a healthier West Africa does not end with the HPV vaccine campaign. In fact, this trial will serves as a pilot for all clinical studies to come, and including our eventual HIV vaccine trial. We will pilot protocols for future trials, and put an infrastructure in place of processes and personnel, and to train those personnel with the skills needed to sustain a vaccine trial site. That way, when we have the GAIA vaccine ready, we can distribute it in West Africa eventually distribute the HIV vaccine that is currently being developed at no cost in developing countries like Mali.

Participating in this campaign to stop cervical cancer means that you are a true visionary.

Thank you for your support!


Nov 30, 2012

Mother To Child Transmission Program Evaluation

GAIA VF conducted a six-year retrospective assessment of its Mother To Child Transmission Program to evaluate its efficacy in preventing pediatric infections and providing services and support to HIV-positive women. Doctors and volunteers reviewed the maternity clinic’s patient charts to identify HIV-positive women enrolled in the MTCTP program for study participation. MTCTP acceptance, HIV transmission risk factors, and HIV seroprevalence among 150 babies born to mothers enrolled in the MTCTP program from 2005-2011 were evaluated by survey.

The results of this evaluation were presented this year at the annual AIDS Vaccine Conference in Boston. GAIA counseled 9,379 women about HIV infection from 2005-2011 (average 145/month). An overwhelming majority (99.1%) of women agreed to HIV testing following counseling. 202 women (2.1%) were HIV positive, of whom 125 (61.9%) accepted MTCTP treatment. Notably, 100% of babies born at Chez Rosalie to MTCTP-adherent mothers were HIV free.

December 1st is World AIDS Day!

Your support for GAIA could not be more important than it is right now – we cannot continue without your help. Help us preserve our HIV care, treatment, and education programs in Mali! Please stand strong with GAIA VF and make a donation today.

Jun 1, 2012

Ongoing programs despite civil unrest in Bamako

As you know, a military coup took place in March 2012, and there is ongoing civil unrest in Bamako. The US embassy remains open, but Peace Corps volunteers have been withdrawn. Accordingly, we have reduced our own presence in Bamako to the minimum; however, we remain committed to continuing support of access to HIV care at the village level, which – in this time of unrest – remains a significant, if not more critical need.

We compiled the results of our work over the past four months in order to measure the impact of the political crisis on our activities at the Hope Center Clinic. Our monthly reports show that in spite of the difficult circumstances:

1) 150 pregnant women on average are still getting tested monthly. Enrollment in the PMTCT program has been steady over the past four months.

2) 30 families are still receiving nutritional support every week. Enrollment has been steady over the past four months.

3) 40 babies are currently being followed.

4) 55 patients on average are coming for voluntary HIV testing every month. Enrollment has skyrocketed in the past four months, increasing from 47 in January 2012 to 83 in April 2012. This increase in voluntary testing shows that our reputable management techniques and efforts to provide free high quality HIV care are reliable.

Our onsite director, Dr. Tounkara Karamoko, also said that significantly more HIV tests have been requested recently by people living in surrounding communities due to the closures of medical infrastructure and clinics in the past weeks.

Despite ongoing unrest in Mali, we remain committed to supporting humanitarian aid and preserving the program that has been one of the most successful interventions in Mali, over the last 10 years. We believe that it is critically important, at this juncture, to sustain hope. We must encourage our Malian colleagues to continue to fight against AIDS, and buttress their optimism that peace and prosperity will be restored.

Thank you!

Mar 13, 2012

Over 10,000 pregnant women screened!

Our “Prevention from Mother to Child Transmission” (PMTCT) activities enroll the largest amount of HIV+ patients at the clinic in Mali, and it is one of GAIA’s major programs.

To date and with your support, we have screened over 10,000 pregnant women since the program was launched! 

We also completed the renovation of our maternity ward and raised sufficient funds to build two new delivery rooms, replace the tiles and paint the walls. We want to improve our ability to provide care and strengthen the good rapport between the clinic staff and the mothers. Our Director, Dr. Karamoko Tounkara also arranged for PCR testing of babies to be done at Sikoro, making the Hope Center Clinic and CSCOM one of the first community-based clinic in Bamako to do so.

Our GAIA collaborators in Mali are finishing our 2011 annual report; it already shows that the percentage of women who accepted PMTCT grew from 35% in 2005 to 100% since 2010. The “Chez Rosalie” program currently has 41 children of HIV+ mothers enrolled in regular follow-up and 100% of the babies whose HIV-positive moms successfully took the medication at the clinic are HIV negative to date

Needless to say each contribution matters! Identifying and following HIV-positive women is the most effective method to reach out to the rest of their families, where others may be infected as well. 

Nov 28, 2011

2011 World AIDS Day Update

Mothers and babies at the Hope Center Clinic
Mothers and babies at the Hope Center Clinic

In the business world, people talk about “Return on Investment” or “ROI”. What’s that mean? Well, usually hat it means – what’s the reward for the funds we invest. At GAIA Vaccine Foundation, our ROI can be measured in smiles, in healthy babies who do not have HIV infection, in lives saved. What’s that ROI? Priceless. And unlike many not-for-profits, GAIA donor dollars go directly to programs. GAIA VF supporters have satisfaction of knowing that lives can be dramatically improved, and the knowledge that – during the greatest pandemic in human history, GAIA VF is leading the way.

How so? We understood the importance of improving access to treatment and invested in building the Hope Center Clinic in 2008 to make HIV treatment accessible. The clinic brings HIV medications right to patients in their neighborhood. We predicted that improving access would reduce HIV transmission, and we were right! In fact, one of the key discoveries in HIV/AIDS in recent years has been that “Treatment is Prevention”. In May 2011, a study involving 1,763 HIV-sero-discordant couples (one partner was HIV positive, the other was not) was stopped before its original closing date because an interim analysis showed a 96% reduction in the HIV transmission rate (See Cohen M.S. et al. N Engl J Med. 2011).

Based on the published data, our success at HCC and the global trend to make HIV treatment available as a means of prevention, our next step is to petition the Malian government to provide Treatment as Prevention at our HCC and follow the impact on the community. In the absence of a vaccine, if providing access to medication can lead to eradication of AIDS, we’re ready to spring into action.

What does the new finding that treating HIV can prevent HIV transmission and the call for Universal Access mean for the rest of the world? It means that the gap between the number of people needing to be treated and the funds available to make that treatment accessible just got wider. Recent reports show a 7% decrease in philanthropic donations for AIDS, from 2009. GAIA Vaccine Foundation’s achievements have proved that each donor’s support is critical to further our mission and improve access to HIV care. In this special World AIDS Day 2011 update, we are pleased to report that the support that we generously received from all our donors allowed us to go above and beyond the objectives that were set for our program.

Through donations and grants, GAIA VF created one of the first clinics in West Africa to distribute village-level HIV care. In January 2011, the Hope Center Clinic was awarded a “Ciwara” (highest honor) by the local Department of Health. As the next International AIDS Conference is taking place in Washington DC in 2012 we will be highlighting our success in oral and poster session. We just completed an evaluation of our Mother to Child HIV transmission prevention program (started in 2005) and data from the past 30 months of our universal access intervention in Sikoro have been analyzed. We are happy to share the results with you.

Assessing our PMTCT Program
In 2010 and again in 2011, volunteers from all over the world traveled to Mali to work on a major evaluation of our program. Our volunteers included Christina Gomez-Mira (U. Texas), Natasha Rybak (Brown U.), Emily Kossow (Wesleyan), Tonhu Hoang (Concord Academy), and Nick Platt (American University of Paris) worked on assessing the adult HIV care with Ali Bicki (U. Miami) while Danielle Poole (Brown MPH program) and Shahla Yekta, Ph.D. (URI) worked on the HPV vaccine studies.

Our efforts are yielding positive results. Mother to child transmission (MTCT) is near zero – only one mother transmitted the virus to her child. The mothers report that they are very satisfied with the care that they are provided at HCC’s “Chez Rosalie” (the MTCT prevention program). In 2011 a second study was conducted and a questionnaire related to both mother and children was submitted. This process allowed us to link the mothers enrolled in the PMTCT program to their newborn and previous children and identify risk factors for transmission.

PMTCT in numbers (2005-2011)
10,150   pregnant women in prenatal care
9,060     pregnant women tested for HIV
198        pregnant women diagnosed with HIV
156        newborns in care
129        babies fed with formula

Evaluating our HIV care Program
We recently evaluated the efficacy of HIV treatment with “tri-therapy” in terms of AIDS-related infections, changes in weight, and CD4 counts over a 30 month study period. More than 60% of the patients increased their weight and CD4 counts and the percentage of patients with opportunistic infections was significantly reduced.

2011 Hope Center Clinic Achievements
200     HIV-infected adults and children in care
20       newborns tested by PCR for HIV
37       children in care
86       new HIV+ patients on treatment
830     patients received nutrition support
62%    improved their viral load while under ARV
61%   of patients had opportunistic infection (OI) at beginning of therapy; <17% had OI after 7-15 months

HPV vaccine Project – Preparing for Trials
Danielle Poole (with help from Kate Tracy, University of Maryland) carried out a study to evaluate whether women (and men) in Mali are ready to accept vaccination with HPV vaccine, the newly approved vaccine that prevents cervical cancer in women and anal warts in men.

This study is supported in part by a research grant from the Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. The KAP and WTP studies will enable GAIA VF to collect information and data necessary for introducing the Gardasil vaccine in Mali; a clinical study is anticipated for next year. This project helps GAIA filed personnel develop the necessary experience, protocols, put an infrastructure in place, and also enables us to train medical personnel. The goal is to lay the groundwork for all vaccine studies to come.

December 1st is World AIDS Day: Honor the Day with a donation!
This year the UNAIDS objectives are: “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.” Help us stop HIV/AIDS!

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Project Leader

Anne De Groot

Founder and Scientific Director
Providence, ri United States

Where is this project located?

Mali   Health
Map of Born Free of HIV in West Africa