I was very glad to be able to spend the week at the West African AIDS Foundation (WAAF), learning about their HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services, and understanding some of the projects they are involved in throughout the country. As a medical doctor from Canada completing my master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins University, I was greatly appreciative of this opportunity. This was arranged by JSI, a partner of WAAF, as I am currently a practicum student with JSI in Ghana.
Over the course of the week, I was able to speak with the team members working at WAAF and the International Health Care Center (IHCC). This included the project coordinators, monitoring and evaluation specialists, pharmacy team, nursing and physician services, counsellor, laboratory, records, and research departments. Everyone at the organization was very kind and welcoming to me, and I was able to learn in-depth about their functions, as well as the state of HIV prevention and care in Ghana.
I wanted to highlight a couple of my experiences: firstly, the outreach program I participated in during the week, and secondly, a community advisory board meeting that I attended.
The outreach program was completed as part of the EpiC project, which focuses on differentiated service delivery to provide HIV self-testing and PrEP services to key populations including MSM, FSW, and transgender people. I travelled with the nurse to an area of Accra where FSWs were staying one day. We provided HIV self-tests for the FSWs, and for those who tested negative (which was all of the women that day), we initiated them on PrEP. It was inspiring to be a part of this outreach, as going out to KPs and meeting them where they are is such an important strategy for relationship building and case-finding.
I also had the chance to attend a community advisory board meeting hosted by WAAF regarding a current research study that is exploring the identity experiences of transgender women and MSM living with HIV in the greater Accra region using the minority stress theory. The advisory board included a number of key advocacy groups in Ghana, who were very active participants in the meeting, voicing concerns, insights and recommendation to WAAF to ensure a safe & positive experience for participants in the research study. Community-based participatory research is similarly practiced in Canada (particularly in black & Indigenous populations), so it was great to see this in the Ghanian context.
Overall, during my whirlwind week at WAAF, I learned so much about HIV in Ghana, and made connections with the kind and compassionate team who provide top-notch services to the community. At the end of the week, I gave a presentation to the team on HIV policy around testing and treatment in Canada and provided a comparison to Ghana based on my experience during the week, recognizing the different cultural and contextual factors that affect HIV services and stigma in the countries. The discussion during the presentation was very enriching, and reinforced for me that the team at WAAF is dedicated to providing high-quality HIV care.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend some time with WAAF, and I hope to be able to work with WAAF again in the future.
With thanks,
Michelle, MD CCFP DTMH