A Carroll County medical assistance agency will use a $100,000 grant from an American pharmaceutical company to bolster its efforts to fight AIDS in Africa.
Interchurch Medical Assistance, an association of a dozen Protestant churches dedicated to providing international emergency relief, will use the grant from Pfizer Inc. to strengthen the health care system in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as offer testing, counseling, caregiver training and treatment.
"With this program, we become part of the effort to create a delivery system among a network of hospitals," said IMA President Paul Derstine. "The grant enables IMA to knit together the infrastructure hospitals need to access the drugs right in their own country. Our job also is education, to provide information to hospitals and to extend that program beyond the hospitals into the communities."
While Pfizer trains Congolese doctors on how to use its products, IMA is instituting programs to help treat infections associated with AIDS.
"Our mission is to bring hospitals into the process," Derstine said. "It won't happen automatically, especially because they are overrun with work and with clinic patients. We can do some of the footwork for them and let them know what is available to their patients."
IMA sent two representatives to the XV International AIDS Conference in Thailand last week. Dr. Glen Brubaker, who spent 30 years as a medical missionary in Tanzania, and Jacqui Patterson, IMA assistant vice president of programs and HIV/AIDS services who works throughout Africa, gave several workshops at the conference. They also met with the manufacturers of products that could benefit them in the global effort to stem the virus, Patterson said.
"Although there does not seem to be much in terms of groundbreaking information, one positive side effect of this conference will be the awareness-raising," Patterson wrote in an e-mail from Bangkok last week. "Another benefit is in creating a forum for bringing together colleagues, institutions and other entities to learn and network on a global scale. Information exchange has been good, particularly for our partners who have not been exposed to some of the global initiatives and recent research and technology."
The information gleaned from the conference could be invaluable in IMA's efforts to treat AIDS patients and establish education and prevention programs, Derstine said.
"With AIDS, there are continual changes around treatment," he said. "We know we are not going to cure this disease, but we want to be part of the program of services that helps alleviate suffering. IMA is looking at the whole picture. We can't do it all, but we want to add tools to the treatment process wherever we can."
From its warehouse in New Windsor, IMA has provided medicines to underdeveloped countries throughout the world since its founding nearly 45 years ago. The Pfizer grant is one of several the agency has received in the last few years.
As part of a five-member consortium of relief organizations, IMA shares in a $355 million federal grant to fight AIDS globally. The funds, awarded in January, are helping to establish prevention programs, diagnostic capabilities and treatment in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.
In 2001, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded IMA a $25 million grant, one of its largest ever, to fight disease and rebuild the Congolese health care system, which serves the country of about 50 million people. The grant has helped IMA's vast network of missionaries throughout the country to re-establish basic health services and improve the treatment and prevention of disease.
Hospitals and missionaries throughout Africa are making amazing strides against AIDS, but they are limited by a lack of funds, Patterson said.
"As the global community becomes increasingly aware of the enormity of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and more funds become available, we must ensure that the work of local groups is supported," Patterson said in a news release from IMA about the Pfizer grant.
The thousands of people who attended the conference in Bangkok marveled at the extent to which exhibitors went to promote their products, she wrote in the e-mail. An elaborate waterfall, built explicitly for the conference, dominated one exhibit hall and prompted one Tanzanian hospital administrator to remark to Patterson that "people living with AIDS are getting thinner and thinner while planners are getting fatter and fatter."
"One must acknowledge the practicality of the exchange of information that is needed to advance science and good practices, but at times, one becomes cynical upon viewing the amount of money being spent on these events as compared to the dearth of resources for direct service," she wrote.