In the Spotlight: Global Health Corps Malawi
By Lisa Barrett
My awesome friend, Nicole Carbone, is serving as a Gobal Health Corps volunteer in Malawi. Read about her amazing experience in the interview below.
- What is Global Health Corps? What is mothers2mothers?
Global Health Corps (GHC) is a fellowship platform aimed at mobilizing young global health leaders in the work towards health equity. The mission of GHC is based around the belief that “health is a human right“. GHC works with global health organizations in Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, and the USA to assess a need for fellows—one in which fellows can add to the growth and work of the organization, and fellows can grow professionally and personally from working at the organization. My placement organization is mothers2mothers, which aims to eliminate pediatric HIV/AIDS and improve the health and well-being of women, babies, families, and communities. mothers2mothers strives to achieve this vision by employing and empowering HIV-positive peer mentors, also known as Mentor Mothers, who provide education and psychosocial support at the facility and in the community to women and their families to prevent the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child.
- What is a typical day for you like?
Each day is so different, which keeps it interesting! I recently attended a Technical Working Group Meeting focused on Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV in Malawi. Last week, I worked on site profiles for our integrated nutrition and HIV project data, and I traveled to Dedza (about an hour outside of the capital, Lilongwe) and to Mzuzu (the main city in the north) to assist with the last sessions of a series of disclosure workshops. On days when I don’t have meetings or I’m not traveling to the field, I catch up on reports, do work around the office, and provide support wherever is needed to the Programs, Training, and Monitoring & Evaluation Departments.
- What made you choose to do Global Health Corps in Malawi?
At the end of my Master of Public Health program, I was determined to work abroad to apply the skills and knowledge I had gained through my maternal and child health focus and my global health certificate. I was very much drawn to the mission of GHC, and how it is a community that values social justice and cross-cultural collaboration. One aspect of GHC that I was particularly interested in is having the opportunity to work with and learn from a national co-fellow, who is also based at your placement organization.
In the GHC application process, you apply to specific positions, so I targeted my application towards maternal and child health-focused positions and towards positions in Uganda and Malawi. I did my public health internship in Uganda, so I was excited about the potential opportunity to return. Also, during my last year of graduate school I helped out with a qualitative study on barriers in care among HIV-positive mothers in Malawi and Uganda, so I was eager to learn more and have the opportunity to work in Malawi. After my finalist interview at mothers2mothers, I was very excited about the organization and about having a role at an organization working towards an “HIV-free generation”!
- What do you wish people knew about mothers2mothers Malawi?
I want people to know about the huge strides our organization has made in lowering the vertical transmission rate. Our latest recorded rate of mother-to-child transmission is about 2%. The World Health Organization classifies any rate below 5% as “virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission”. We are hopeful that our rates will continue decreasing! I also want people to know how hard my co-workers, including the Mentor Mothers, work to ensure that HIV-positive women are initiated on treatment, adhere to treatment, and that they are retained in HIV care. I am grateful to be part of an organization that does such great work despite the barriers and challenges in the Malawi health care system.
- How do you think this position has helped inform your ideas about health care? How have some of your views changed?
While I don’t think this position has changed many of my views, I have become more informed and more aware about global health work. I think this position has further helped me to understand the realities of doing HIV/AIDS work on the ground. In grad school we often talked about the need for coordination between stakeholders. Because Malawi is such a donor-dependent country, there are often two or three different organizations implementing programs at the same health care facility. I now better understand the value of collaboration in global health work. I also have a better understanding of the challenges of a free-for-all health care system in which the levels of staff burnout and drug stock-outs are high. As a result, treating common illnesses like malaria and viral infections is challenging. I look forward to continuing to learn more as I continue my global health career following this fellowship year!
- How does the environment play a role in your work?
I mentioned our integrated nutrition project above briefly. Because of climate change, it barely rained two years ago during key planting and growing seasons. Malawi is a country that relies on maize for its staple food, nsima, and vegetables and legumes to accompany the nsima as relish. Because of the limited rains, maize and other vegetables were scarce, the prices were high, and rates of malnutrition increased. mothers2mothers Malawi received funding to address the hunger challenge in two districts in Malawi. Our project involves training Mentor Mothers to do nutritional pre-screening assessments on key populations (i.e. under-five children, pregnant women, breast feeding women, and adolescent mothers) in the community and at the facility to identify and link HIV-positive and HIV-negative clients to nutrition treatment. This project has been running for the past five months, and mentor mothers have successfully referred and linked numerous malnourished clients to the necessary nutrition services!
8. How can we find out more?
mothers2mothers was recently featured in Marie Claire (UK): http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/reports/eliminating-mother-child-hiv-484878
I’ve kept a personal blog, so if you’re interested in reading more, here’s the link: https://inthewarmheartofafrica.wordpress.com/
Photos by: Nicole Carbone