HIVE takes a little trip to Medsin's National Conference on Maternal and Child Health... so what's that got to do with HIV?
Jesse Banks (Training Co-ordinator) and Emily Waterhouse (Chairperson) for HIVE Southampton* reflect back on their weekend at the recent National Conference in Warwick…
As we arrived in Warwick at 11.30pm on a Friday night (having spent 4 cramped hours in a minibus with 12 other Medsin members and maxing 50mph on the motorway) we were hoping we hadn’t made the effort in vain! The conference kicked off bright and early the next day with a keynote speeches by Professor Steve Allen, a paediatric gastroenterologist who has spent the last 10 years working in The Gambia, West Africa and Papua New Guinea, where he trained paediatricians and researched malaria, thalassaemia and malnutrition.
This was followed by plenaries on child health, safeguarding women and children, and delivering maternal care. They comprised some of the most interesting and inspiring speakers we have ever had the privilege to listen to, especially the ever enigmatic Dr Dan Magnus, founder of the Kenyan Orphan Project, who, whilst evidently very talented, lacks the ability to stand still or stop talking! We were also thoroughly amused by Obs and Gynae Consultant, Miss Sadia Malick, who replied to a questioned on sex education in Pakistan with a satirical ‘You are mistaken, no one in Pakistan has sex’. I was also fortunate to attend a workshop by another plenary speaker, the unsilenceable Dr Geetha Subramanian, who held forth passionately on topics such as early medical abortion, management of Female Genital Mutilation, domestic abuse and young people’s sexual health - what a force of nature!
You might be thinking at this point: how is all this relevant to HIVE? Well, as some of you may be aware, statistics suggest that over 700,000 HIV-positive infants are born every year - this is known as perinatal transmission and was the theme of another of the workshops I attended. Hearing these statistics, it is natural to wonder that since the medical knowledge exists to prevent perinatal transmission (e.g. by avoiding vaginal delivery and breastfeeding, alongside anti-retroviral treatment of the mother and prophylactic treatment of the infant), surely eradication of perinatal transmission is an achievable and potentially substantial step towards eradication of HIV?! The answer, we learnt, is technically yes - but poverty, lack of infrastracture, government policy, cultural beliefs and many, many more factors stand in the way.
These are not problems that can be solved quickly or cheaply, but education and continued pressure from passionate individuals and organizations will definitely help. Many of the speakers have been involved in projects working towards this aim in the developing world, and they were been truly inspiring. So for those of you who have not yet been to a conference on HIV or global health, we implore you to get involved. We also hope to see you at the next Medsin Conference in Glasgow - though this time, let’s fly, okay?
*HIV Education (HIVE) is a student-led society that teaches about HIV/AIDS and global health in schools. We are part of a larger international organisation, Support for International Change (SIC), which aims to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS in underserved communities, and to train future leaders in global health and development. HIVE also provides support for SIC projects in Tanzania by raising funds and recruiting interested student volunteers.