November 22, 2011

Microsoft alumna works with UW Global Health to bridge faith and science in Ethiopia

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

One ongoing project seeks to train “soul fathers,” or respected religious leaders based in hospitals, on HIV.

When people fall ill in northern Ethiopia, theyre more inclined to call a priest than a doctor. They have little faith in modern medicine.

Nancy Andrews, a Microsoft alumna, has been trying to change that by encouraging religious leaders to embrace medicine to prevent the spread of HIV while increasing care for those infected. Her innovative work was recognized Nov. 16 in Seattle by Bill and Melinda Gates and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation.

Andrews is co-founder and project manager of SCOPE – Strengthening Care Opportunities through Partnership in Ethiopia. SCOPE is an alliance of the University of Washingtons Department of Global Health, University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, the University of Gondar in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Andrews was one of six finalists for the 2011 Microsoft Integral Fellows Awards, which recognize Microsoft alumni who have dedicated their lives to addressing problems across the globe. Andrews is a former general manager at Microsoft, where she worked for 10 years.

Nancy Andrews (left) works with clerics in Ethiopia to get people tested and treated for HIV.

Nancy Andrews (left) works with clerics in Ethiopia to get people tested and treated for HIV.

As a finalist, she received $5,000 to help support SCOPEs activities. “Its a huge honor,” Andrews said.

Andrews founded SCOPE four years ago after hearing a speaker at University Presbyterian Church stress how AIDS is one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time. When we look back 100 years, the speaker asked, will the church be able to say it did all it could to address the epidemic?

Through an Ethiopian who attended the church and other contacts, Andrews says she came up with a location for a project: the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, which had the countrys highest rate of HIV prevalence (15 percent rural and about 6 percent urban) and the largest number of infections (about 380,000 in 2010), according to Andrews.

In Amhara, which is known as the source of the Blue Nile, about 87 percent of the people are Orthodox Christians who are very devout, Andrews says. Because the church has so much influence, SCOPE sought to use its reach to address the HIV problem.

One collaboration involved SCOPE renovating a church museum. When people came to view church treasures and hear the Archbishop speak, Andrews said, they were also asked to undergo testing for HIV and counseling. More than 800 people, including the Archbishop, were tested.

Another ongoing project seeks to train “soul fathers,” or respected religious leaders based in hospitals, on HIV. “Wed like to train enough of the soul fathers so we can get one in each hospital in the region,” Andrews said.

Anti-retroviral drugs are readily available in Ethiopia, Andrews said, but getting HIV-positive people to regularly take their medication is a challenge. Soul fathers and other church leaders can help convince people to accept  medical care.

SCOPE funds fellowships for UW students to conduct research and come up with possible ways to involve the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the medical community in addressing access to HIV delivery and care. The organization is funded by private donations, largely from members of the church. 

Tagged with: