Universal access: the benefits and challenges in bringing integrated HIV care to isolated and conflict affected populations in the Republic of Congo

Confl Health. 2009 Jan 7:3:1. doi: 10.1186/1752-1505-3-1.


The Pool region of the Republic of Congo is an isolated, conflict-affected area with under-resourced and poorly functioning health care services. Despite significant AIDS-related mortality and morbidity in this area, and a national level commitment to universal HIV care, HIV has been largely neglected. In 2005 Médecins Sans Frontières decided to introduce HIV care activities. However, in this setting of high basic health care needs, limited medical resources and competing medical priorities, a vertical HIV programme was not suitable. This paper describes the process of integrating HIV care and treatment into basic health services, the clinical outcomes of 222 patients started on antiretroviral treatment (ART), and the benefits to communities and health care systems. Key lessons learned include the use of multi-skilled human resources, the step-wise implementation of HIV activities, the initial engagement of an HIV experienced staff member, the use of simplified and adapted testing, clinical and monitoring protocols and drug regimens, the introduction of more complex monitoring tools to simplify clinical management decisions and intensive staff education regarding the benefits of HIV integration. This project in a rural and remote conflict-affected setting demonstrates that integrated HIV programs can save lives and play a key role in helping to achieve universal access to ART in Africa.