Rwanda, Uganda Needs Assessed

NASW recently teamed up with Physicians for Peace in a fact-finding, needs- and resources-assessment trip to Rwanda and Uganda.

NASW's Division for Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs sent staff member Evelyn Tomaszewski, senior policy associate, to represent the association's HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project on the trip sponsored by Physicians for Peace. The organization is seeking outside funding for a technical proposal to scale up pediatric HIV/AIDS services in Rwanda and Uganda through partnerships that will train local health care providers. Physicians for Peace asked NASW to provide social work HIV/AIDS expertise for the trip.

"We were asked to participate because of NASW's history in providing education to promote HIV/AIDS care and treatment efforts through the HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project," Tomaszewski said.

In February, NASW signed a memorandum of understanding with Physicians for Peace to work together. The intent is capacity building: It will help current providers in Uganda and Rwanda meet the needs of children and families there through holistic, biomedical and psychosocial care.

Also participating in the trip was Family Health International (FHI), a nonprofit organization active in international public health with a mission to improve lives worldwide. FHI has programs and facilities in Uganda. The trip was a first step in NASW's collaboration to seek new partner initiative funding through President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. If funding materializes, NASW plans to join Physicians for Peace in developing and implementing training programs and mentoring in the two countries, Tomaszewski said.

"We met with in-country providers and learned about best practices in HIV/AIDS psychosocial care as well as identified gaps in knowledge and barriers to success," she said.

There was clear evidence of high levels of training and solid structures in place in both countries, particularly for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, Tomaszewski explained. What is lacking in the programs, however, is sufficient workforce resources for providing necessary psychosocial care for families and individuals living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, she said.

"Part of my role was finding what worked and identifying indigenous programs in place that we could help build upon," Tomaszewski said. "We also looked at ways to expand existing programs to offer psychosocial services."

The trip included visiting with health officials and social workers from each country to promote ties with NASW's international help efforts, Tomaszewski pointed out. In Uganda, for example, the group met with officials from Uganda's national association of social workers. Members also met with representatives from various institutes as well as long-standing civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations providing HIV/AIDS services.

Tomaszewski noted that health care leaders from both countries appeared eager to learn new psychosocial skills in treating clients across the life span. The trip provided the opportunity to build foundations for future collaborations with local partners as well as the chance to work with indigenous health care providers, visiting providers and volunteers to improve and enhance services beyond medical care.

"They expressed interest in advancing their skills in teaching risk reduction, behavioral change and how to work with vulnerable communities," Tomaszewski said.

Get HIV/AIDS Practice information.