Dr. Watt’s study in South Africa lends insight into disclosure challenges for pregnant women with HIV

In 2015, Dr. Melissa Watt received a small grant from the Duke Center for AIDS Research to explore HIV care engagement for women initiating ART during pregnancy in Cape Town, South Africa. This research, conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cape Town, helped lay the foundation for the team’s current work in Tanzania and Dr. Watt’s broader research program on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT).

In Cape Town, researchers conducted repeat interviews with twenty women during pregnancy and again within three months after giving birth, to explore and understand the challenges women faced and the support they received navigating their HIV care as a new mother. Disclosure of women’s HIV status emerged as an important theme, with findings detailed in a manuscript recently published in AIDS and Behavior. The Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) featured the article on its website and in its newsletter.

You can read the research brief and find a link to the article here.

Stakeholder meeting generates exciting conversations

On August 9, 2018, the team hosted a scientific symposium and stakeholder meeting at KCMC to discuss addressing HIV stigma in PMTCT in the Kilimanjaro Region. The aim of the meeting was to bring together scientists and health practitioners working on PMTCT-related activities in order to share our preliminary research findings on PMTCT in the Kilimanjaro Region, and  solicit input on an intervention to address HIV stigma in the context of PMTCT. The meeting was attended by representatives from the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the KCMC Community Advisory Board (CAB), and representatives from local healthcare facilities.

The day’s presentations and group activities generated great discussion about the study findings and implications for PMTCT care in the region, as well as ideas for the proposed stigma intervention.

It is our hope that this symposium provides a platform from which we can identify areas of synergy and collaboration to strengthen PMTCT research and implementation within Kilimanjaro Region.

Godfrey Kisigo joins newest cohort of MSc students at DGHI!

After a year of hard work coordinating the Option B+ study at KCMC, Godfrey Kisigo will have the chance to further his training in global health research at the Duke Global Health Institute. Godfrey will bring his multitude of experiences, dedicated work ethic, and bright smile to Durham as he joins 29 other classmates as part of the new Master of Science in Global Health cohort at DGHI.

While the KCMC team was sad to see Godfrey leave Moshi, we are grateful that Godfrey will continue to work with the Option B+ team as he completes his studies at DGHI!

Read more about Godfrey and his fellow classmates at DGHI here.

Godfrey with Dr. Mmbaga


The team gathers to celebrate and wish Godfrey well!


Jane Rogathi joins the team as Study Coordinator

As the Option B+ team prepares for the launch of the new stigma study, we are excited to welcome Jane Rogathi as our Study Coordinator at KCMC. Jane is a nurse with graduate-level experience in epidemiology and applied biostatistics. As part of her research for her PhD, she conducted studies to examine intimate partner violence affecting women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Her research interests in reproductive and mental health, as well as her work ethic, thoughtfulness, and leadership, will be a great asset to the team. We look forward to future study successes under Jane’s direction. Karibu sana!

Jane and Dr. Watt in Moshi


Team launches new stigma study

The Option B+ Team continues to make great progress as we wrap up our 12-month follow-up of cohort participants and continue data analysis. Preliminary findings have helped us to better understand the challenges pregnant and postpartum women face, and demonstrate the need to address stigma among pregnant women navigating prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services.

Dr. Watt and Dr. Mmbaga responded to a funding opportunity to develop stigma reduction interventions leading to better outcomes for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and improved quality of life of people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries. The team saw a unique opportunity to address HIV stigma at entry into antenatal care (ANC), reaching all pregnant women who receive routine HIV testing and counseling services. Addressing HIV stigma at the first ANC visit can help women who test positive to overcome stigma-related barriers to the initiation and maintenance of HIV care, and can help women who know their status to deal with HIV-related stigma during pregnancy and transition to PMTCT services.

With funding from the Fogarty International Center (R21 TW011053), the team will develop and pilot test a brief, scalable intervention called Maisha (Swahili for ‘life’), a counseling intervention that addresses HIV at entry into ANC. We are excited to build upon our existing PMTCT research infrastructure and collaborations with local clinics.

Godfrey Kisigo attends the Global Reproductive Health Leadership Symposium at Duke

Our study coordinator, Godfrey, visited Duke at the end of February to attend the Global Reproductive Health Leadership Symposium. The goal of the symposium was to bring researchers from DGHI priority partner locations in East and South Africa together with their mentors and other Duke faculty, students, and trainees “to strengthen research capacity, develop leadership and mentorship skills, and identify gaps in reproductive health research in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Over three days, Godfrey attended presentations, engaged in discussions, and participated in research skills sessions focused on developing leaders in global reproductive health. Godfrey had great things to say about his experience:

‘Attending the Global Reproductive Health Leadership symposium presented a unique experience to interact with notable researchers from East Africa and Duke University. I enjoyed the mentorship session the most, as it was featured with the presence of my mentor. I believe we have created potential collaborations in reproductive health research across East Africa and Duke University at large. I should not forget to mention that food was amazing, and the organizing committee was rocking.’

Godfrey was also present at Duke to celebrate the launch of the Center for Global Reproductive Health, led by Dr. Megan Huchko. At the event, which coincided with International Women’s Day, Godfrey was one of three speakers who shared a short story about how he became invested in improving the health of women around the world. We share Godfrey’s optimism about the future successes of the Center!

‘I am indeed grateful to be part of this inauguration. I have so much hope that the center will strive to address inequalities in reproductive health. The center is made up of an enthusiastic team, and their commitment to reproductive health research will improve quality of life to many, especially our women from low- and middle-income countries.’

Godfrey speaks at the launch of the Center for Global Reproductive Health

Systematic review on retention in HIV care under Option B+ published in JAIDS

As we follow our cohort of HIV-infected women in Tanzania, it is important for us to place our research within the broader context of Option B+ implementation across Africa. Our team conducted the first systematic review synthesizing the growing body of literature describing the PMTCT care cascade in the Option B+ era in Africa. The review was guided by 2 study aims: (1) to summarize the proportion of HIV-infected pregnant women initiating and retained in HIV care and Option B+ programs at various time points after starting lifelong ART, and (2) to identify the factors associated with retention in HIV care and loss to follow-up under Option B+.

The analysis, led by Brandon Knettel and Cody Cichowitz, includes 35 articles representing more than 60,000 African women initiating ART under Option B+. Pooled estimates of retention were 72.9% at 6 months for studies reporting < 12 months of follow-up and 76.4% at 12 months for studies reporting ≥12 months of follow-up. These retention rates, which are lower than those of the general adult population, underscore the need for interventions that target the unique and complex circumstances of women initiating care under Option B+. Risk factors for poor retention included younger age, initiating antiretroviral therapy on the same day as diagnosis, initiating during pregnancy versus breastfeeding, and initiating late in the pregnancy. Retention was compromised by stigma, fear of disclosure, and lack of social support. Furthermore, the review notes the inconsistency of methods used across the studies, and in response includes recommendation for future studies measuring retention to help standardize procedures for tracking and reporting retention.

Full citation:

Knettel, B. A., Cichowitz, C., Ngocho, J. S., Knippler, E. T., Chumba, L. N., Mmbaga, B. T., & Watt, M. H. (2018). Retention in HIV care during pregnancy and the postpartum period in the Option B+ era: A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in Africa. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS) 15;77(5):427-438. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001616

Abstract and full article available at:


Two Option B+ abstracts presented at AIDS Impact Conference in Cape Town

Option B+ team members Melissa Watt and Cody Cichowitz traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to present at the AIDS Impact Conference, an international behavioral and psychosocial science conference addressing issues related to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care. Cody gave two oral presentations reflecting work from the B+ cohort and analysis of Kilimanjaro region medical record data. His presentations on retention in care across the PMTCT continuum under Option B+, and HIV-related shame, HIV acceptance, and attitudes about long-term ART fit well into their respective symposia, “Preventing mother-to-child transmission: new insights” and “Stigma: the invisible killer.” In addition to sharing early results from the team’s work, the conference provided valuable opportunities to meet fellow researchers, share ideas, and foster a renewed commitment to addressing the AIDS epidemic.

Cody presents at the AIDS Impact conference in Cape Town

Lilian Chumba presents facility-level data at the DGHI Student Showcase

As part of the Masters of Science in Global Health program at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), students complete a faculty-mentored, field-based research experience between the first and second years of their program. The Option B+ team was lucky to have a wonderful MSc student, Dr. Lilian Chumba, join the team during her time at DGHI. Over the summer of 2017, Lilian, a trained medical doctor from Kenya, completed qualitative data collection focusing on Aim #1 of the study, examining facility- and provider-level factors affecting Option B+ implementation. Lilian completed observation protocols at three of the Option B+ healthcare facilities, noting the clinic set up, provider-patient interactions, provider-provider interactions, clinic record keeping, and relationships among the clinic departments. She complemented these observations with 30 key informant interviews with health service providers involved in HIV care for pregnant women, including doctors, nurses, and home-based care providers.

Lilian presented preliminary findings from her project at the DGHI Student Showcase on November 1st, 2017 and will continue to analyze the data as part of her Master’s thesis. The data are crucial to understanding how the Option B+ protocol is implemented in Tanzanian healthcare facilities, and addressing the facility-level factors that support or impede successful implementation. Lilian’s work will be used to make recommendations to local clinics on how they may improve in their implementation of the Option B+ protocol, and will also inform new interventions aimed at addressing lapses in HIV care.

Lilian presents at the 2017 DGHI Student Showcase (source: DGHI)

Dr. Watt and Dr. Mmbaga attend Women Leaders in Global Health Conference

Study PIs Dr. Melissa Watt and Dr. Blandina Mmbaga traveled together to Stanford University to attend the 2017 Women Leaders in Global Health Conference.

According to conference organizers, the one-day meeting was inspired “by the large and growing number of women in global and public health, and frustration about the lack of diversity and representation of women in global health leadership positions.”

“Women comprise as much as 75% of the health workforce in many countries and the majority of students in academic global health tracks. Yet they hold only 8 of 34 World Health Organization executive board positions and fewer than 1 in 4 global health leadership positions at the top 50 U.S. medical schools.’

Drs. Watt and Mmbaga met with other emerging and established women leaders in the field,  discussed strategies to  engage and support women in the workforce, and learned how to build their own leadership skills.

We are grateful to have these two accomplished women leading our team and providing wonderful mentorship and support!

Dr. Watt and Dr. Mmbaga having fun at WLGH!