In August 2023 Marja Suomela (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL) joined the NDPHS Expert Group on HIV, Tuberculosis and Associated Infections.
Marja, tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background. What are you passionate about?
I am a social scientist by education and my professional background is project management and international development. I have worked previously mainly on gender equality, human rights, and security related programmes in international organisations (e.g. EU, UN agencies), as well as in civil society organisations). I have spent a large part of my professional life in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in the East and Horn of Africa. Working towards reducing inequalities and discrimination in societies has always been my main motivation and domain which is why I’m also thrilled to join the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
How do you feel about joining the NDPHS and in particular the Expert Group on HIV,TB & AI as an ITA? What are your first impressions and thoughts about the topic in the region?
This is an interesting time to join the group. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has brought new challenges and needs for the work. The war in Ukraine has impacted and increased the need for access to HIV and TB related services in the region. The countries in the region have received a lot of refugees from Ukraine, among them those who need health and care services and anti-retroviral medication. Lack of knowledge about services as well as stigma and discrimination hinder access to services. Our Expert Group is currently exploring ways to support both the national authorities in Ukraine and the access to services and treatment for the refugees.
What are the current priorities of the HIV,TB&AI Expert Group? How would you characterize the role and the additional value provided by the expert network in addressing these issues?
The topical item in the upcoming meeting in Tallinn is to discuss national priorities on HIV, TB & AI in order to strengthen the link between the group’s work and the policies in the countries. The group provides a platform for top HIV & TB experts in the region to share data and information about policies and practices in their countries. We try to foster learning and promotion of good practices and transfer of expert knowledge to national and regional decision-makers in health services.
Listen to the NDPHS podcast Tune In Health episode Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis: People living with HIV/AIDS produced in collaboration with the Expert Group on HIV, TB & AI.
Text: Marja Suomela (The NDPHS Expert Group on HIV, TB & AI), Zane Vilnite (NDPHS Secretariat)