Bridging the Gap implementing tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS collaborative activities in the Northwest Region of Cameroon
Abstract: IntroductionThe human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic has led to the upsurge of tuberculosis (TB) infection globally, but most especially in areas with high HIV prevalence. In the past, there was lack of a coordinated global and national response between TB and HIV programmes to curb the devastating impacts of both infections. However, the ProTEST Initiative piloted in sub-Saharan Africa in 1997 demonstrated that TB and HIV programmes could collaborate successfully in delivering joint services. This prompted the development of the WHO interim policy on collaborative TB/HIV activities in 2004, aimed at reducing the burden of TB and HIV in populations affected by both infections. This thesis explores how collaborative activities between TB and HIV programmes have been established in Cameroon and implemented in the Northwest Region. It also highlights the achievements and constraints in delivering joint services to TB patients co-infected with HIV.MethodsThe study was conducted in the Northwest Region, one of the 10 regions of Cameroon with the highest HIV prevalence. The study uses health system research combining qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the research objectives. Qualitative methods were used to capture the perspectives of: i) the service providers; key informants from the central, regional and district levels concerned with the collaboration process and in delivering HIV services to TB patients, and ii) TB patients regarding HIV testing as an entry point to HIV services. Quantitative methods were used to ascertain TB patients’ access to HIV services provided for by the collaboration.ResultsThe study demonstrated that although there were varying levels of collaboration between TB and HIV programmes from the central to operational level in the health system, delivering joint services was feasible. Furthermore, despite the challenges TB patients faced in testing for HIV, overall implementing TB/HIV collaborative activities increased TB patients’ acceptability and accessibility to HIV services. These were facilitated by the improved collaboration at the operational level, and enhanced service provider-patient alliance which was instrumental in building patients’ trust in the health system. Collaboration also led to cross-training and teamwork between staffs from both programmes, and improved networking between service providers and other actors involved in TB and HIV care. Nevertheless, there were health system constraints including inadequate leadership and management, shortage of human and infrastructural resources, frequent interruptions in the supply of essential drugs and laboratory materials ConclusionTB/HIV collaborative activities have improved service delivery and TB patients’ access to HIV services. Nonetheless, appropriate stewardship which guarantees joint planning, monitoring and evaluation of essential activities, and accountability at all levels in the health system is invaluable. Besides, the identified health system constraints which could adversely influence effective joint service delivery and a sustainable collaboration deserve due appraisal.
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