UnifiedCare: Integrating GBV Care and STI Services

May 23, 2024
Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Dr. Joshua Bress, Dr. Givano Kashemwa
    Interviewee
  • Jean Armas
    Author

For 10 years we have been working with partners in the eastern Congo to ensure survivors of gender-based violence in remote areas receive essential medical care and referral to holistic services. In a model developed with Panzi Foundation, and with courageous Congolese teams, we have worked diligently to ensure survivors can access time-sensitive care near their homes and that critical medications are always available. But we learned that this is not enough.

A key challenge in addressing gender-based violence is understanding its magnitude. When the extent of the violence is unknown, it is impossible to procure adequate resources, such as HIV medications, or to measure the effectiveness of efforts. Data from 44 countries show that 49% of women who experienced violence never sought help or told anyone around the time the violence occurred. The healthcare system is often the first entry point into an ecosystem of services, including legal and socioeconomic support. While our program treated women who disclosed recent violence, we were missing those who sought medical care for related issues, but without disclosing the underlying sexual violence.

We are addressing this challenge by broadening our intervention, bundling training materials for gender-based violence survivors with content for treating sexually-transmitted infections into a digital program called UnifiedCare. Frontline healthcare workers can use the application to find clinical decision support for screening and treating STIs, with features like symptom-based assessments and antibiotic dosing. This added content includes universal screening for gender-based violence.

"Including routine screening for gender-based violence into the care protocol for other conditions associated with GBV is crucial for ensuring all survivors are reached," says DRC Country Program Manager, Dr. Givano Kashemwa.

We recently completed beta-testing of UnifiedCare and gathered valuable feedback from experts worldwide. We also interviewed healthcare providers in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) about the challenges of providing high-quality STI care. We thank all of the volunteers who provided valuable feedback to improve the tool. In the next few months, we will complete the second version and plan for real-world testing with our partners in East Africa.

Global Strategies is raising our leadership in many areas, especially in neonatology and HIV treatment for children. This work is very important in the region.
Dr. William Bonane, public health doctor at HEAL Africa

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