A Time to Reflect: Success and Continued Work in Preventing HIV/AIDS
Visit to the Infirmary of GR Libreville. From left to right: Luc Armel NKALA (MCD), Mariam Bahova (MCD), and two military HIV/AIDS peer educators in Gabon.
Luc Armel NKALA MFOULOU is no stranger to managing and implementing different initiatives to prevent HIV/AIDS in Gabon. December is particularly special to Luc Armel as December 1 is known as World AIDS Day and the entire month is also AIDS Awareness Month.
"It's a special day, giving me the opportunity to reaffirm my personal commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. It also gives me the opportunity to join others in the fight to support those infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS while remembering those who have lost their lives to the disease,” he said. “It's a month of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, a time to reflect on global efforts, notably the immense progress made in reducing new infections and AIDS-related deaths. It's also a time to reflect on the progress made in improving access to treatment, introducing new drugs, adopting new technologies, and fighting stigma and discrimination."
Gabon's PMLS team and MCD's team visit to Gabon earlier in 2023. Luc Armel is pictured second from the left.
Since 2020, he has been the project director of the U.S. Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Project (DHAPP) in Gabon, which MCD Global Health leads. With a master’s degree in molecular physiopathology, he uses his knowledge and skills to ensure success in delivering high-quality HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, care, and treatment services.
The DHAPP Project aims to provide technical support and formative supervision to military health services to improve HIV testing, initiation of antiretroviral treatment, and access to viral load for clients visiting military health facilities in Gabon.
To achieve these goals, MCD, along with Gabon's Programme Militaire de Lutte Contre le Sida (PMLS) (in English, Military Program for the Fight Against HIV/AIDS) and Ministry of Health, has organized training courses on HIV prevention, screening, care, and treatment for more than 500 military health workers in Libreville and the interior of the country over the last four years. In addition, MCD, under Luc Armel’s lead and working with Gabon’s PMLS and Ministry of Health, has had great success since the project began, including:
- 229,000 male condoms have been distributed as well as offering group or individual sessions to raise awareness about preventing HIV/AIDS.
- Around 24,500 HIV rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) have been used for screening purposes, and the innovative index case screening strategy has been implemented in military facilities.
- 1,040 Xpert-HIV-1 cartridges are available, free of charge, to people living with HIV (PLHIV) who are undergoing treatment at military facilities. This activity resulted in viral load coverage of 82% of clients on ART (military and civilian), 52% of whom were undetectable.
Working session between Luc Armel NKALA (left) and Commandant BIGNOUMBA Zita (right), focal point of the index testing program at the HIAA military hospital in Gabon.
With such achievements, it’s no surprise that the project was recently extended to 2027 to continue working toward the UNAIDS' 95-95-95 objectives: 95% of PLHIV know their HIV status, 95% of PLHIV are on antiretroviral treatment, and 95% of PLHIV are on treatment being virally suppressed.
In terms of meeting those universal goals, Luc Armel believes that the WHO/UNAIDS guidelines on HIV prevention are effective when properly implemented, such as using male condoms correctly during intercourse, being screened for HIV often to receive treatment if positive, and others.
“Since HIV is a preventable disease, it's better to focus on prevention actions to reduce the number of PLHIV requiring treatment. That's why complementary strategies, such as oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), vaginal dapivirine rings, and long-acting injectable cabotegravir, are also ways of strengthening HIV prevention and have already proven their worth in some countries."
In addition, he believes it’s important to guarantee safe access to harm reduction programs for intravenous drug users and others and that if prevention approaches were understood and adhered to, the number of new HIV infections would decrease in the future.
“I'm very passionate about my work and really enjoy what I do, despite the challenges I face in implementing the project,” Luc Armel said. “As a native Gabonese, I'm proud to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS in my country.”