Namibia curbing HIV with help of U.S. telemedicine

Once a week, doctors and nurses in Namibia connect virtually with medical experts in the United States to receive up-to-date training in HIV and AIDS-related patient care.

Namibia is among 23 countries across six continents participating in a U.S. telemedicine and video conferencing program called Project ECHO, which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes.

The weekly contact via the internet doesn’t diagnose or provide treatment to patients. Instead, the health care workers in Namibia get the knowledge and support they need to manage the 80,000 patients living with HIV there. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention runs the program, with the help of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“We have invested in better health and opportunity all over the world through programs like PEPFAR, which funds AIDS relief,” President Trump said in his speech to the United Nations in September.

Two women doctors speaking with two doctors on video screens (Shutterstock)
Video conferences offer training on HIV/AIDS care to medical workers across geographic borders. (Shutterstock)

The telemedicine project is particularly helpful to medical professionals in rural and underserved areas that may lack the latest information. Until recently, for example, Namibia did not have a medical school.

Results are impressive. Today, more than 85 percent of the people living with HIV in Namibia know their status. More than 87 percent of those “are responding appropriately to treatment,” Dr. Simon Agolory, who heads up the effort in Namibia, said in a video explaining the project.

Once participants receive their virtual training and educational materials through Project ECHO, they can share that knowledge with their colleagues.

The project was originally developed by the University of New Mexico to promote quality health care in the United States. Today, it has the potential to improve worldwide efforts to control the HIV epidemic, CDC experts said in the medical journal The Lancet. “This model also helps countries to strengthen their own health systems, which makes the world a safer place for everyone,” they wrote.

December 1 is World AIDS Day.