April Amazingness

I love it when new possibilities open up to improve the health and well-being of our children living with HIV!

Here are 3 new and exciting things that just developed in my world to begin April (not fooling!):

1. More film-making! My team is partnering with our talented friend, Thomas Lewis, to make more films in Kenya to benefit our youth and families living with HIV. Our goal with this new project is to produce a series of short, dramatic films that target the issue of living in a place where those with HIV are stigmatized and discriminated against. Through the efforts of our multidisciplinary team, we now have 2 grants to make this film project possible. We have been working on scripts based on the stories of our youth and families, and we plan to start filming in June. I can’t wait to have these films as a tool to use with our kids, families, schools, and elsewhere in the community. Hooray!

Thomas and I after a day of film-making on our first project in 2013

Thomas and I after a day of film-making on our first project in 2013

2. Under Armour amazingness! I got a rather urgent call from my administrative assistant today about 2 pallets of boxes arriving at my office. (For those of you who have never been to my office, it already resembles a storage unit as it is inevitably packed with supplies to bring to Kenya.) Through the great work of The Pocket Square Project, Under Armour sent us a ton of brand-new sneakers for our kids in Kenya! They are amazing, and I know that our adolescents are going to love them. Somewhere in the piles of boxes, there is also some other athletic gear too. I can’t wait to share these things for our healthy living – youth activity days this summer. Now, we just need to carry them over to Kenya…

Oh my word! Look at all this stuff! The kids are going to be thrilled.

Oh my word! Look at all this stuff! The kids are going to be thrilled.

3. Working on improving children’s adherence to HIV medicines around the globe! The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel with launching the new projects on children’s adherence in South Africa and Thailand, and then participating in global meetings on adolescents with HIV in Italy. I also am writing a new grant proposal to expand this work. Plus, there’s something much bigger in the works that I cannot announce yet, but am very excited about.  AMFAR and TreatASIA featured our Thailand launch on their website and in their newsletter.

With our team at the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Centre

With our team at the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Centre

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Bangkok Beauties

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I am behind in posting and on my way to yet another country, but I have to share some of my favorite shots from glittering, colorful, crowded Bangkok. The city was dense with people, smog, heat, and humidity, but around each corner emerged a bright temple or wat or shrine, with red tiled roofing and glittering gold statues, the smell of incense offerings and bright flower wreathes piled at the feet of Buddhas. It was a fascinating place. What my camera saw…

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Bangkok: Launching our project with the Thai Red Cross HIV Center

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My latest research adventures brought me to Bangkok, where we launched and trained another site for our project to figure out the best way to monitor children’s adherence to HIV therapy across sites around the world. I really love seeing this work expand across the global sites providing HIV care.

The Thai Red Cross has been caring for patients with HIV in Bangkok since 1985. They are true pioneers in what it means to provide HIV care for patients in poor places. In the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Center, they provide care for a large number of children, adolescents and adults who are also enrolled in key AIDS research studies. Most of their children are on the older end because they have been providing HIV care for so many more years. This makes them a great site with which to work to figure out the challenges of transitioning children with HIV into adolescence and adulthood.

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Not only was this site well-equipped to launch our new research project, but they enthusiastically welcomed me to do teaching for two of the medical schools in Bangkok about pediatric adherence to HIV therapy. Moreover, the Thai Red Cross team hosted us with great enthusiasm, making sure my program manager and I saw the highlights of the city and ate, ate, ate our way across Bangkok. Such fun.

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Cape Town

I am a bit behind in my travel documentations, but I cannot neglect the beauty of Cape Town. I had always heard the Cape was beautiful. In the midst of busy weeks of setting up projects to follow children’s adherence to HIV medicines, escaping for a weekend in this glory of the water and mountains and sky and sunshine was pure delight.

I felt like Cape Town was constantly showing off — just one ridiculous scene after another, each sunset and sunrise and beach more spectacular than the next.

My camera and I loved this glory.

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Research Fun in Johannesburg

For me, the whole reason to do health research is to figure out how to make healthcare work better. I wanted to know what would work. I ended up in global health research (As an English major! Who hates statistics and math!) because the issue of how to save the lives of children in the poorest parts of the world was critically important to me. I wanted to tackle big, giant problems killing children and I wanted to know what solutions would really make a difference.

I wanted to figure out how to best care for children with a really complicated disease who are growing up the poorest parts of the world. If you can create a healthcare system that can do that, you can do anything. That’s why I do research.

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This week has been a really exciting step in seeing those dreams come into fruition. For years, I have been struggling with the challenge of how to know which families in Kenya are having the most problems with maintaining HIV therapy for their children. We know it’s a major challenge to have a child taking 3-4 different medicines two days a week for the rest of their life, and we need to know how we can help families with that challenge. We have studied this like crazy in Kenya. Now, we are starting to look at the rest of the world’s HIV programs.

I chair the global consortium of programs providing HIV care for children (called IeDEA), and we want to figure out a consistent way to measure children’s adherence to HIV medicines for HIV care programs around the world. This week’s exciting step for that has been to test out the procedures we have been developing in Kenya, and to see how they do when you use them at other sites in East Africa, South Africa, and Asia.

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Launching this new project at the Rahima Moosa Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa has been ridiculously fun. All week, my program manager and I have been doing training sessions here in Johannesburg and learning about this clinical system — all to get ready to launch an HIV medication monitoring project here.

They have a lot more resources than our clinics in Kenya, but they also serve a very poor population of children and their caregivers. Spending time in the largest child HIV clinic here in Johannesburg feels like home; bring me to the children and families struggling with HIV in the poorest parts of the world, and I am among my people. (And I can speak to these families in English! Such a delight for explaining things!) The South African clinicians and I have bonded over our shared challenges.

Johannesburg has more resources than Kenya (And roads! And wine! And shopping!), but they also still have a major HIV problem here. Among the pregnant women coming to the largest mother-baby hospital to have their babies, 1 in 3 has HIV. ONE in THREE pregnant mothers. HIV is still everywhere. Passing this terrible virus into the bodies of beautiful babies and children.

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I love new ideas, and of course, new ideas are born daily when I am among my kindred hearts. We keep dreaming up more and more ways to collaborate across Eastern and Southern Africa to help our families. We struggle with so many of the same challenges. And we want to answer questions about what will work and about how to provide better care for families with children with HIV.

Long days, but fun, fun, fun.

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