At St. Martin de Porres Hospital on the outskirts of Accra in Ghana, Joseph is beginning a very important journey. The 27-year-old is picking up a two-months’ supply of lifesaving antiretroviral therapy medication (ART), but the drugs are not for him, even though he has taken them daily since he was diagnosed with HIV at age 11.
Joseph is part of a program called Model of Hope, which is run by the Christian Health Association of Ghana (CHAG), and enlists the help of people living with HIV to assist others who have tested positive for the virus. CHAG is one of the many community-based organizations and healthcare providers in Ghana supported by the Global Fund.
This year, Apple is marking 15 years of partnership and nearly $270 million raised through its (PRODUCT)RED campaign to support the Global Fund’s efforts to stop the spread of AIDS across sub-Saharan Africa.
COVID-19 has made this mission even more critical. To address the dual challenges, last year the Global Fund launched its COVID-19 Response to help to alleviate the impact of this second pandemic on communities already grappling with HIV and AIDS. Apple was one of the first companies to shift attention and resources to the Global Fund’s COVID-19 efforts, and will continue redirecting half of eligible proceeds from (PRODUCT)RED purchases to the COVID-19 Response through the end of 2022, with the other half going directly to the fight to end AIDS.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for patients to come in to get their antiretroviral therapy medications from hospitals like St. Martin de Porres.
Joseph is one of 13.8 million people who has access to ART as a result of Apple’s contributions to the Global Fund’s efforts in Africa, and he sees the effect COVID-19 is having on those he counsels through the Model of Hope program.
“When it’s time for them to come in to get their medication, sometimes they don’t because of COVID,” says Joseph. “Because they are afraid — they think, ‘When you come to the hospital, you get COVID,’ so many do not come at all.”
Had the groundwork not been laid for fighting HIV over the last two decades by the Global Fund and contributing partners like Apple, so much of what we’re doing today to address larger healthcare issues, including COVID-19, would not be possible.
For immunocompromised individuals, like those with HIV who must take ART every day, missing those appointments puts them in grave danger — but so does exposure to COVID-19. Model of Hope volunteer workers like Joseph ensure that many patients receive medication and counseling, even when they are not willing or able to travel.
“When COVID struck, we had a lot of businesses shut down and we had a lot of movement restricted,” says Kafui Kornu, CHAG’s senior communications officer. “So the Model of Hope system helped in that regard, and they’ve been doing very well identifying [those in] need and delivering their drugs to them. When they go, they identify that it’s not just that a person doesn’t want to come, but there’s actually some other problem that needs to be solved to enable them to get access to the drug.”
Rebecca, 45, is also a volunteer worker in the Model of Hope program, and has been on ART for 15 years. Despite her HIV diagnosis, she has given birth to three children who all tested negative for the virus because she followed prevention of mother-to-child transmission protocols, or PMTCT. As a result of Apple’s contributions to the Global Fund over the last 15 years, more than 5 million pregnant women have been able to receive PMTCT counseling to help prevent passing on HIV to their children.
Model of Hope program volunteer Rebecca working inside her shop.
Rebecca owns a small shop near St. Martin’s Hospital and became a Model of Hope so that she could help others and give back to her community.
“Had the groundwork not been laid for fighting HIV over the last two decades by the Global Fund and contributing partners like Apple, so much of what we’re doing today to address larger healthcare issues, including COVID-19, would not be possible,” says Luisa Engel, (RED)’s Chief Impact Officer. “The healthcare worker that was trained to fight the spread of HIV is also going to be able to diagnose your child with malaria, to make sure your blood sugar looks right if you have diabetes, and put a COVID-19 vaccine in your arm. So there’s a much bigger health impact that comes from the community infrastructure built by the Global Fund and supported by companies like Apple.”
In Ghana, that translates to a 21 percent decrease in new HIV infections over the last decade, and 200,000 people on ART, up from 40,000 in 2010. A huge part of that success is rooted in the Global Fund’s work in communities, and with HIV-positive volunteer workers who help to combat the stigma that is associated with a positive diagnosis by showing that a full life is possible with treatment.
“I say, look at me — I started taking the drugs when I was young, and now I’m 27,” says Joseph. “One day I want to be a lab technician, to continue my education. So if you take your ART, you can be like me; I know one day I will be someone in the future.”
Model of Hope program volunteer Rebecca posing outside her shop.
Rebecca followed prevention of mother-to-child transmission protocols and gave birth to three HIV-negative children.
Rebecca talks about her status with those she counsels and her own children, to give them the tools they need to protect themselves and others. She sees her volunteer work as a way of giving back.
“I wanted to be a Model of Hope because somebody helped me,” says Rebecca. “I’m still alive now, I suppose, to help others too.”