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New Public-Private Partnership Uses E-Learning to Fight HIV/AIDS

$15 million Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to action brings new resources to laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa.

by Siemens Healthcare
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Although largely unrecognized, laboratories are critical to disease control, including HIV/AIDS. Laboratory systems enable accurate disease detection, confirmation, treatment, and monitoring; however, under-resourced laboratory systems in sub-Saharan Africa threaten effective disease response and control.  Today, at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, Siemens Healthcare, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced “Stronger Together,” a new five-year Commitment to Action valued at $15 million, to strengthen laboratory systems in sub-Saharan Africa.  In collaboration with five African countries, “Stronger Together” will leverage the expertise of each partner to build laboratory infrastructure and human resources.

“Laboratory services are essential to the entire health care system and quality laboratory systems are a key underpinning of PEPFAR’s HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment efforts.  We’re excited about working with CDC in this partnership with Siemens to advance PEPFAR’s ongoing effort to build laboratory capacity in countries with a high disease burden,” said Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.  “This public-private partnership will build on PEPFAR’s existing training delivery approaches by using online learning tools to train thousands of qualified professionals working tirelessly to diagnose disease outbreaks and other diseases occurring in the population, so they can be treated effectively.”

As a global leader in clinical diagnostics, Siemens will provide laboratory training to laboratory personnel through its Personalized Education Plan (PEP).  PEP is the in vitro diagnostics industry’s first virtual competency-based education and training solution, which is designed for advanced customized training.  E-learning tools are not new to Siemens—the company currently trains its own global workforce using Web-based and mobile technologies.  According to the CEO of Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Michael Reitermann, “Lab tests that deliver timely, accurate, and reliable results, along with skilled laboratory personnel, are crucial for the early detection and management of HIV/AIDS and other epidemics.  We are honored to work with PEPFAR and CDC to better equip laboratories in Africa with training solutions to fortify the skills and ability of lab personnel to fight these devastating diseases.”

Initially, “Stronger Together” will support capacity building for key laboratories in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia – countries where both PEPFAR and CDC have longstanding collaborations with the host governments.  CDC, a PEPFAR implementing agency, has been heralded for its laboratory capacity building efforts achieved through PEPFAR.  The agency also has a proven track record for strengthening global laboratory health systems to fight diseases.

PEPFAR’s health systems strengthening has not only proven critical to the HIV/AIDS response but also to addressing opportunistic infections that threaten the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, such as tuberculosis and malaria.  In addition, in countries where PEPFAR has worked with partner governments to build capacity, those governments have leveraged the health systems strengthened through PEPFAR to respond to other diseases and disease outbreaks, such as the 2012 Ebola response in Uganda and the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti.  Prompt and accurate disease detection is crucial to effective disease response and “Stronger Together” will expand the availability of necessary training in resource-limited settings, making countries with a high HIV burden better equipped to respond to and control their HIV epidemic.  Coupling Siemens’ e-learning resources with the subject matter expertise of PEPFAR and CDC in monitoring laboratory safety and quality is in line with PEPFAR’s call for shared responsibility and has the potential for broad impact in strengthening health systems in the initial five countries and beyond.

“Stronger Together” is the brainchild of longtime PEPFAR supporter, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who knows that an investment in laboratories is an investment in life.  “PEPFAR has made historic progress in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and caring for those living with the disease," Senator Coons said. "It has already had a transformative impact on the African continent and its potential for saving lives will only grow because of this new partnership. Bringing the remarkable technological expertise of Siemens to key labs in Africa will have a catalytic effect among the medical professionals working there every day to advance HIV-related testing and diagnosis. I've always been very optimistic about what a partnership like this could accomplish, and am very excited to see it get underway."