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Norwalk-Based World Health Clinicians Returns to Africa

WHC founders return to Zimbabwe to renovate the newly-acquired clinic for the BEAT AIDS Project Zimbabwe. They will also bring WHC's anti-stigma and testing campaign, "HIV Equal."

Contributed image, courtesy Thomas Evans.
Contributed image, courtesy Thomas Evans.
The goal of Norwalk-based World Health Clinicians (WHC), is nothing short of saving the next generation of Zimbabweans. WHC, founded by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Blick and Executive Director Scott Gretz, return to Africa in an effort to support its initiative, BEAT AIDS Project Zimbabwe (BAPZ), which brings education, awareness/advocacy and treatment for HIV/AIDS to the people of Zimbabwe.

The popular photo initiative, HIV Equal (www.HIVEqual.org), founded by WHC, will also return for a second round of photographing and testing of local Zimbabweans in an effort to end stigma surrounding HIV and HIV testing.

More than ten years ago, when Dr. Blick successfully treated an HIV-positive Zimbabwean couple who gave birth to a healthy, HIV-negative son, he knew that he had discovered a way to help the next generation of a country gripped by a nearly 20-30% infection rate among its adult population.

Nearly 1.1 million people in the southern African nation are affected by HIV, nearly 1.2 million children are orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, and Dr. Blick and his BAPZ team work with a mission to curb that number.

“Our mission is to treat anyone living with HIV, as well as to prevent mother-to-child transmission,” explained Dr. Blick in a release. “We also tend to the medical needs of orphans and children already plagued by HIV/AIDS. Through our recently acquired clinic in Victoria Falls, we believe that it will become the prototype for comparable clinics in other communities of Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS-ravaged countries throughout Africa.”

Though the new clinic is currently undergoing renovations, BAPZ continues working with the local community in providing care and education to the community local to Victoria Falls.

Once it opens, the clinic will focus on patient education and on administering Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (colloquially known as HAART, or three-drug cocktails), which will be the primary therapy to stop the virus from growing and which reduces the levels of the virus in the blood. 

“Lower levels of the destructive virus in the bloodstream reduce the chance of the virus being passed from mother to unborn child through the placenta. If pregnant women receive treatment before the third trimester, we can achieve less than one percent of babies being born with HIV/AIDS," said Blick in the release.

World Health Clinicians and BAPZ are additionally working together with local NGOs to beat the spread of HIV/AIDS through other means. Local truck stops, where “commercial sex workers” engage in relations with passing drivers, will be a targeted community for skills development.

Realizing that HIV-associated stigma is an international problem, the HIV Equal testing and anti-stigma photo campaign will also return to Zimbabwe and offer an interactive way to increase education and reduce stigma of both HIV and HIV testing.

The photo campaign, which illustrates that everyone is equally valuable regardless of their HIV status, recently returned from events in Los Angeles, New York and Norwalk, where it earned the support of celebrities, models, athletes and notable politicians, which have all helped to garner greater visibility in affected communities in each city and across the U.S. and internationally. 
In its first Zimbabwe photo event in December, 2013, the campaign photographed nearly 70 individuals local to Victoria Falls. 

Participants who sign up to take a photo will first take an HIV test with an on-hand health professional as part of a greater effort to help end the fear around HIV testing. The test is confidential and involves a quick and painless mouth swab or fingerstick with results in 20 minutes. In the event that an individual does test ‘reactive’ for HIV antibodies, on-hand staff is prepared with the necessary counseling and linkage to care.

WHC understands both the human and the financial cost of HIV/AIDS, and has developed HIV Equal through a social media strategy of visibility to encourage people across the U.S., and across the globe, to get tested and to know their HIV status.

It will continue to push for greater visibility through its own social media outlets, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/HIVequal), Twitter (@HIVequal) and Instagram (www.instagram/HIVequal).

For more information about World Health Clinicians, please visitwww.worldhealthclinicians.org. To learn more about BEAT AIDS Project Zimbabwe (BAPZ), please visit http://beat.worldhealthclinicians.org/about-bapz/. And for more information on HIV Equal, please visitwww.HIVequal.org

Related Story:
Blumenthal, Himes Pose for HIV Anti-Stigma Photo Campaign

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