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Women & Infants' Ultrasound Machine Helps Poor Community in Mali, West Africa

by Joan Trombetti, Writer | May 20, 2009
Rebecca Gerber, MD,
(left, background)
approached Women &
Infants' physicians about
donating an ultrasound machine
An ultrasound machine donated by Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island was recently installed at a community health clinic in Mali, West Africa. Clinicians in the area were then trained with the help of a physician and the Providence-based organization. The machine is being used to diagnose and manage high-risk pregnancies.

The Global Alliance to Immunize Against AIDS (GAIA) Vaccine Foundation, founded in 2002 by Dr. Anne DeGroot, associate professor of pediatric infectious disease at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is dedicated to preventing HIV while supporting the development of a globally relevant and accessible HIV vaccine. GAIA's mission also includes providing more advanced care for pregnant women, many of whom are HIV positive and might otherwise transmit the virus to their babies.

Three years ago, Rebecca Gerber, MD, approached Women & Infants' physicians about donating an ultrasound machine and the necessary probes and attachments for GAIA, after convincing DeGroot that the organization should consider expanding its services to include diagnostic imaging studies.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for Women & Infants to put what we consider to be an outdated machine to good use in a community that lacks adequate care for pregnant women," notes Tom Hughes, FACHE, director of Diagnostic Imaging at the hospital, about the resulting donation.

With a piece of equipment secured, GAIA started organizing shipment, a task that involved intense fundraising efforts by pre-medical students at the Alpert Medical School and Boston University. In the meantime, Gerber, a 2008 graduate of Alpert specializing in radiology, spent hours with Cindy Botvin, a sonographer with Rhode Island Medical Imaging, to learn how to use the ultrasound machine.

Earlier this year, the ultrasound was shipped and installed at the Hope Center Clinic located in a peri-urban slum in Bamako, Mali, Gerber notes. The clinic provides basic medical services as well as AIDS and tuberculosis treatment. GAIA Vaccine Foundation has been supporting the delivery of health care in Sikoro since 2005. Brown pre-med students traveled to Mali to help with the project and local foundations supported the construction of a new HIV care center in 2008. Earlier this year, GAIA's Hope Center Clinic became the first village-based infirmary to deliver HIV care in Mali. The Hope Center will become a model for Mali's 750 other clinics, DeGroot says.

"This is an invaluable resource," Gerber says. "The goal is to screen for high-risk pregnancy in HIV-positive women, but the machine can also be used much more generally as well.