Technology Is a Key Ally in the AIDS War

By Eileen Feretic Print this article Print
technology fights AIDS

A global consortium tasked with eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Ghana includes Yale University, IBM, The ONE Campaign and local partners.

Information technology has made significant contributions throughout the world, but it may prove most valuable in the health care industry—especially in the fight to cure deadly diseases such as AIDS. That's the purpose of a global partnership linking a government, a university and a technology vendor.

John Dramani Mahama, the president of Ghana, recently announced a consortium tasked with eliminating mother-to-child transmission (eMTCT) of HIV in his country. The consortium includes Yale University, IBM, The ONE Campaign (an advocacy organization fighting to end poverty and disease), and local partners such as the Ghana AIDS Commission and the Christian Health Association of Ghana.

Two Yale pediatric faculty members, Doctors Elijah Paintsil and Michael Cappello, were key players in forging this initiative.

"We started doing small-scale research in Ghana several years ago," Dr. Paintsil told Baseline. "We found there weren't enough doctors, enough diagnostic tools, enough medication and supplies, and enough sharing of information. We decided to do something about that."

Each year, 9 percent of the approximately 800,000 babies born in Ghana are HIV-positive. President Mahama made a commitment to lower that to less than 5 percent by 2018 and less than 1 percent by 2020.

The president's Website states: "To achieve this, the consortium is establishing a robust information technology infrastructure, streamlining existing health care resource allocations, raising public awareness, and building human capacity to ensure the efficient use of resources to enable women and children at risk of HIV and AIDS to benefit from state-of-the-art care."

The consortium's efforts involve testing pregnant women in Ghana, treating those who are HIV-positive and tracking all these at-risk pregnancies. "This requires a national approach, with resource-sharing among Ghana's governmental departments, especially health and education," Paintsil said.

Yale's Website reports that its efforts involve "students and faculty members [who] will engage in HIV research, education, and training to support care providers and public health officers, in order to protect the lives of women and their babies."

IBM's role is to provide both technology and expert assistance. Teams from the company's pro-bono Corporate Service Corps are working with the Ghana Health Service and Yale's health professionals to implement this initiative.

"IBM's people will look at the data we have on HIV transmission from mothers to children and will help [the consortium] develop a blueprint for executing this effort," Paintsil said. "We plan to pilot it in one region this year and scale up to the national level next year."

Health care workers in clinics, offices and remote sites in Ghana will use mobile devices to collect data from pregnant women. They will upload the information to an IBM System z mainframe, which will use cloud, mobile and big data technology to analyze the data and determine the most effective treatment and prevention programs for the women.

One barrier the consortium will have to deal with is cultural, according to Dr. Paintsil. "There is a stigma attached to HIV, so we need to educate people about this disease and the treatments available," he explained. "We have to send the right messages, and we have to get the fathers of these children involved. We need family-centered approaches.

"Solving this problem—that's my passion!"

This article was originally published on 2014-05-05

Eileen Feretic is the editor in chief of Baseline.

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