Ellen Baker, Lise Ellyin & Esther Mandara

Across time zones and geographies, three organizations have joined forces to support vital health programs such as cervical cancer, maternal-child health, and HIV services in Southern Africa — an effort that their teams have continued to support during the pandemic.

Dr. Ellen Baker and her team at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, have supported the national cervical cancer program in Mozambique alongside partners such as Lise Ellyin, Clinton Health Access Initiative’s (CHAI) Mozambique Country Director. During the pandemic, MD Anderson and CHAI partnered with Medical Bridges, a medical surplus recovery organization accredited by The Task Force’s MedSurplus Alliance (MSA), to provide low-resource clinics in Mozambique with essential medical equipment and supplies.


The donations provided by Medical Bridges provided much-needed health equipment and supplies for CHAI and MD Anderson to distribute to communities in Mozambique. Increasing its activities in Southern Africa, MD Anderson hopes to advance its partnership with CHAI in Lesotho, led by CHAI Country Director Esther Mandara.

As of 2020, nearly 21 million people in Southern and East Africa were living with HIV, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Women with HIV are at an increased risk for developing cervical cancer and the Lancet reports that 85% of women with both cervical cancer and HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. In countries with a high burden of both, like Mozambique and Lesotho, it is vital to integrate HIV and cervical cancer care.

Even in the best of circumstances, providing such care is difficult for health care workers.

“They really go the extra mile to make sure that HIV patients are getting the services they need,” Mandara said of colleagues in a remote clinic in Lesotho. “There isn’t even a road, so the facility is difficult to get to. It can only be reached by a small plane. This healthcare worker goes out of their way to make sure the patients feel seen and received once they arrive.”

The pandemic has further complicated efforts to provide screening and treatment services, with travel restrictions presenting some of the greatest obstacles. Baker, Ellyin, and Mandara’s teams have used Zoom and other online platforms to keep the work going, as governments and other partners have moved training and meetings online.

“A large part of our program involves hands-on training and working closely with our medical colleagues in Mozambique, and we have been unable to travel since February 2020,” Baker said. “Some of our programs have paused during the pandemic because there was a hesitancy among the population to get routine health care at times because of the COVID-19 surges.”

The pandemic also added to the ongoing challenges of access to medical supplies and vital equipment for diagnosing and treating patients. These are not readily available to clinics in low-resource settings like those in remote communities in Mozambique and Lesotho. This is where MSA provides support, helping to connect accredited medical surplus recovery organizations like Medical Bridges with facilities that can use their donated equipment. MSA partners send roughly 4 million tons of supplies to up to 80 countries, 50 states and U.S. territories each year – including the government public health programs in Lesotho and Mozambique.

Baker said her idea of heroes are “not necessarily the people whose names are in the newspaper, but the people who are working every day to provide support for their communities, make life better and add something to our world in a positive way”. 

Ellyin agreed, citing the extraordinary efforts of the government and her colleagues in Mozambique. 

“Throughout the pandemic, members of my team, the healthcare workers and many other teams have worked non-stop,” said Ellyin. “They are really dedicating themselves to their work on COVID-19, along with maintaining our routine programs and have forfeited a lot of their free time with their families. It took a huge toll on a lot of people, but they kept going and never complained.”

Photos courtesy of Baker, Ellyin, and Mandara.

Photos courtesy of Baker, Ellyin, and Mandara.

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