Josephine Trenchard, Counterpart Country Director, and Lewis Lukens, U.S. Ambassador to Senegal.

by Jennifer O’Riordan

Patients in Thiès’ rural areas now have access to a new method of medical treatment. In 2010, the regional hospital in Thiès, which is 60 kilometers east of the capital Dakar, purchased “telemedicine” equipment, medical technology used to provide healthcare from a distance.

The technology allows the hospital to reach out to patients via live video streaming, increasing the amount of consultations it provides to rural patients. With video link capabilities, doctors at the hospital can now discuss symptoms and treatment with patients, saving hundreds of people the burden and cost of a long trip to Thiès’ regional hospital.

With funding from USAID’s Food for Peace (FFP) program, Counterpart constructed a new facility that not only houses the telemedicine center, but also accommodates conferences and internal meetings that previously had to take place outside the close-quartered compound – all at an extra fee that added financial pressure to the hospital’s budget.

At an October 17 dedication ceremony at the Thiès Regional Hospital, Counterpart, USAID and the Government of Senegal officially opened the telemedicine center for Thiès residents, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS.

Already, the University in Thiès has signed an agreement to regularly rent out the center for meetings and classes, and discussions with similar groups are taking place. The hospital intends to share this income with local groups who support those living with HIV and AIDS.

“What we really appreciate about this project is the possibility to continue care and support activities for people living with HIV/AIDS in the long term due to funds generated from the telemedicine and conference center rental,” says Medoune Diop, Counterpart’s Deputy Country Director in Senegal.

The local Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) was having trouble finding places to hold group discussions and training activities due to a lack of privacy at most out-door meeting places. At the new conference center, PLWHAs can hold their meetings regularly without fear of stigmatization.

Once regular rentals begin, catering for this facility will be managed by an Economic Interest Group made up of PLWHAs that Counterpart trained in cooking techniques.  Several PLWHA group members will also be hired as full time cleaning staff for the facility.

“The donation of this facility by the United States will be hugely beneficial to the people of Thiès,” said U.S. Ambassador Lewis Lukens, who attended the dedication ceremony. “It will help bring care to hundreds of people who otherwise could not access it, while helping to meet the financial needs of the hospital.”

Zema Semunegus, USAID/Food For Peace team Leader, the President of Thiès Regional Council, Mr. Idrissa Camara, and Mr. Mamadou Sow, National Director of Health Structures joined other government representatives at the October 17 event.

Counterpart has a history in the Thiès region. Since 2005, through the Food For Peace, program, Counterpart has distributed more than 384 metric tons of food to the region’s nine health districts. In addition to food commodities, the organization has also provided nutritional counseling for residents of the nine districts, specifically for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Augmented by home and intra-hospital visits and group discussions, these sessions have helped reduce malnutrition rates among people living with HIV and AIDS from 59.60 percent in 2003 to just 7.4 percent in 2011. The region’s HIV rate of 0.4 percent is even lower than the national average of 0.7. However, in some districts, such as Mbour, the HIV rate can be as high as 2 percent.