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Clinical center expands and enhances care in Mbeya, Tanzania
Prior to the January 2008 opening of the Mbeya Center for Infectious Diseases, also referred by some as the Center of Excellence (COE), Mbeya Referral Hospital’s (MRH) HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment Center (CTC) was housed in the main hospital complex where it lacked privacy and was plagued by overcrowding.
With the opening of the COE, the approach to HIV/AIDS treatment has significantly improved. The building houses offices, meeting spaces and classrooms, confidential counseling and examination rooms, data storage space, a dispensary, a large patient waiting area with televisions, and a pediatric waiting area with toys and books. While the building’s primary purpose is to serve the HIV positive population of Mbeya and the surrounding areas, clinics targeting skin diseases, pediatrics, high blood pressure, and diabetes are also held in the COE on a weekly basis. Utilizing the building for a variety of clinics has helped to reduce stigma and has afforded HIV positive patients a sense of anonymity, as there is no way for anyone but staff to identify the services an individual is seeking. As a result of this increased confidentiality, efficiency and personal attention, as many as a few hundred patients can be seen on any given day.
Martha Mwihomeke “Mama Martha,” a full-time nurse who has been a part of the MRH’s CTC since its opening, cites the biggest success of the COE as the sense of welcome it has provided for the patients. Mama Martha elaborates, saying that patients are now happy to come to this CTC where they are seen by nurses and doctors at every visit and where they are able to obtain the necessary drugs without leaving the building. Says one patient who has been receiving treatment for several years, “The CTC is better now. There is more space, a better building, and a dispensary so we don’t have to wait as long as at the [hospital’s] main dispensary. Service is very good compared to other places. There is a CTC very close to my house but I like to come here. My wife is also getting treatment here, and we are very comfortable. It is very good.”
In addition to the services provided under the roof of the COE, a system of linkages with local NGOs allows patients to receive support at the community level with services ranging from home based care and nutrition assistance to participation in HIV clubs where connections can be made with other HIV-positive people in the community. The NGOs, in turn, refer those HIV-positive individuals who have utilized voluntary counseling and testing services in the community to the COE for care and treatment. This system of linkages and referrals has increased the patient population at the CTC to approximately 10,000 HIV positive individuals, with around six new patients enrolling in HIV care on any given clinic day. As the COE continues to develop and become more established in the community, the positive impact it has already created will only continue to grow.
Melissa Clansky from Bethesda, Maryland, a recent high school graduate, is volunteering for MHRP at the Walter Reed Project – Tanzania.