HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). There is currently no effective cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.
In honor of World AIDS Awareness Day, Woman’s is highlighting CHAMP (Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Management Program) which has delivered approximately 900 babies of HIV positive mothers without HIV transmission from mother-to-baby since 2005. CHAMP is run by Pam Ellis and Karen Thomas, two women who have dedicated their careers to raising awareness and assisting pregnant women who have been diagnosed with HIV.
Pam Ellis has been a part of CHAMP since the program’s inception in 2002 as the Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission Prevention Program. Ellis is a board member on the local FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center), sits on the mayor’s Advisory Council for HIV, and is also on the End the Epidemic subcommittee. Her role in the CHAMP program is maintaining relationships with organizations in the community that provide healthcare and other assistance programs to persons diagnosed with HIV.
Karen Thomas has been part of CHAMP for the last 12 years and her role is to work closely with pregnant women who have been diagnosed with HIV. Thomas spends much of the time with her patients educating them about HIV, teaching them how to navigate the healthcare system, ensuring they have access to resources and medication, and ensuring they can attend their appointments.
What is CHAMP and what does it aim to achieve?
CHAMP is the Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Management Program, and it has three main goals. First and foremost is zero mother-to-child HIV transmissions. Second is patient education and HIV 101. This involves an explanation of how the healthcare system works. Third is to foster a trusting relationship with patients. “HIV is a lifetime diagnosis and many HIV patients have a negative experience with the healthcare system. They are going to be connected with the healthcare system for a long time, so we want to equip patients to advocate for themselves to make the system work for them” says CHAMP Clinical Services Coordinator Pam Ellis.
How does CHAMP function to stop babies from getting HIV from their mothers, and have there been changes in how it operates over time?
The process of preventing babies from getting HIV from their mothers begins as soon as the mother finds out she is pregnant. Thomas will meet the patient at LSU or Maternal-Fetal Medicine to complete a comprehensive assessment with the goal of tailoring a program to their needs. This initial assessment can take anywhere from one to three hours depending on whether the patient is newly diagnosed or had prior knowledge of their HIV, and the mother is immediately started on anti-retroviral.
“If they’re a new diagnosis, I link the patient to an Infectious Disease Provider/Clinic of their choosing. In addition, a contact is made with the Rapid Start Navigator at Louisiana Office of Public Health who will contact the patient and offer to accompany her to appointments. Because it’s not something taken easily by most people due to the stigma affiliated with HIV, most patients choose not to disclose to their family members and/or friends. Being pregnant and then being newly diagnosed can be overwhelming. Having a trained healthcare professional accompany them to their initial appointments can help put them at ease. This professional can help them navigate the healthcare system, they can advocate for the patient and provide education and additional supportive services as needed” says CHAMP Clinical RN Case Manager Karen Thomas.
Throughout their pregnancies, Thomas follows up with patients to ensure they are attending their appointments, taking their medications, and connects them to resources they need to provide for their unborn child.
HIV/AIDS affects all socioeconomic, racial/ethnic and age groups, and a significant percentage of patients enrolled in the CHAMP Program live below the poverty line. Part of the initial comprehensive assessment is to evaluate Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), this assessment is used as a guide to document what the patient’s current needs are based on Maslow’s Hierarchy Needs. Lower-level needs such as food and safety must be met first before higher needs can be fulfilled. CHAMP has a vast network of community-based organizations Thomas and Ellis coordinate with to assist patients.
After delivery, extensive education is done according to CDC guidelines and preparation for discharge is facilitated, which includes ordering, delivering, and educating on baby’s anti-retroviral medications. Follow-up appointments for mom and baby with infectious disease and WIC are made, and diapers and formula for transition to home are provided.
CHAMP operates in a constant state of change because the medications and guidelines change rapidly. Ellis and Thomas do everything in their power to follow the CDC guidelines. If the guidelines change, they adapt.
How does CHAMP team up with doctors, community organizations, and others to make sure its efforts are successful?
CHAMP partners with many community organizations such as the Junior League diaper bank, food bank resources, federally-qualified health centers, and more to ensure these mothers with HIV can get the basic support they need. When Thomas was hired, she spent several shifts following nurses at these organizations so she could walk patients through what they could expect when accessing them. “These are long-standing relationships where we can connect them personally with the provider that is going to be providing services to them.” says CHAMP Clinical RN Case Manager Karen Thomas.
What are the future goals of CHAMP?
CHAMP currently has an 85% show rate, which means patients only miss appointments 15% of the time. In 2023, the goal was to increase postpartum appointment attendance. Last year CHAMP had a 10% attendance of postpartum appointments and this year it had an astounding 78% attendance. The goal next year is to maintain 75% or more.
Another goal is to add an additional RN to help more women with HIV. Right now, the focus of CHAMP is to assist only pregnant women with HIV, but they would like to expand that focus to include all women.