Nov. 05 2018

ICAP Celebrates 15 Years of Health at a Global Scale

For 15 years, ICAP at Columbia University, the world-renowned global health center, has advanced groundbreaking progress against HIV and other health threats. An October 30 anniversary event at Low Library put a spotlight on key moments from ICAP history, from its beginnings as a bold initiative to confront a raging HIV epidemic to its emergence as a global health leader responsible for saving the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Debra Fraser-Howze, a longstanding HIV advocate and leader, emceed the event, which also featured a panel conversation on global health with University Trustee Claire Shipman, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Eswatini Deputy Director of Health Services Rejoice Nkambule, and El-Sadr. Separate remarks were given by Deans Linda Fried and Lee Goldman and University President Lee Bollinger. Guests were given additional glimpses into ICAP’s work through the premiere of a special video and a new report summarizing 15 years of progress and a vision for the future.

Under the leadership of Wafaa El-Sadr, ICAP was founded in 2003 at Columbia Mailman School to bring lifesaving treatments to resource-poor communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, where millions of people were dying from the epidemic every year. “[When ICAP started] it was an untenable situation—a global disgrace that we had HIV treatments at our fingertips yet so many people were going without them,” said El-Sadr, director of ICAP and University Professor.

ICAP launched the world’s first multi-country HIV treatment program, acting as one of the key implementing partners of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The effort began by enrolling pregnant women with HIV to prevent mother-to-child transmission and rapidly grew in size, adding testing and treatment for family members. By 2006, 100,000 people living with HIV had initiated lifesaving treatment through ICAP-supported programs. Today that number stands at nearly 1.5 million. A total of 33 million have been tested for HIV.

“It was a truly audacious undertaking at a time when skeptics deemed this scale of intervention to be unfeasible,” said Dean Linda P. Fried. “It was, and is, truly innovative, bringing a vision of new models of care at many levels, and offering what seemed impossible and making it happen.”

Today, ICAP’s 1,700 team members lead projects in more than 30 countries and supporting more than 6,000 health facilities. In recent years, ICAP has expanded its work by implementing sustainable solutions for other major health threats, including tuberculosis, malaria, maternal and child health, and non-communicable diseases. Its goals are achieved by strengthening health systems, training nurses and community health workers, and by conducting research to track the success of its programs. These efforts are carried out with a broad coalition of partners: ministries of health, non-governmental and community-based organizations, academic centers, the private sector, civil society groups, and the many communities around the world where ICAP is active.

The anniversary event featured a testimonial from Mercy Nyaboke and Austin Oloo, two adolescents who participated in the photography workshop for young people living with HIV organized by ICAP in Kenya. They offered stirring reflections on their journey in finding an avenue for self-expression through photography, examples of which were on display around the Rotunda.

“Wafaa and ICAP are responsible, in my view, for two revolutions,” said President Bollinger, “one in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and the other in changing our sights as to what can be accomplished through the University’s intelligent and energetic engagement in the world around us.”