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Oscar Arac Triumphs Out of his Troubled Past to a Makerere University First Class Star

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When Arac Oscar was abducted in S.1 at Alito Secondary School in Kole District by the self-appointed ‘messiah’ of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony, his world had come to an end. He could never believe that he could have any other opportunity to shape his future through education.

In those days, the spiritualist rebel group abducted thousands of children and adults to serve as porters and also fill the ranks of Kony’s Army.

But as luck would have it, despite a troubled background, he emerged in the top quarter of his class with a First Class of 4.49 in Bachelor of Environmental Health Sciences housed at Makerere University School of Public Health under the College of Health Sciences.

We walk you his life journey of how he beat the odds to become today’s star. Born to the late Arac George and Esther Akello in April 1987, Oscar doesn’t have any memory of what his father looked like.

Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze, Professor and Dean MakSPH congratulates Arac Oscar on his first class. Photo-Davidson Ndyabahika
Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze, Professor and Dean MakSPH congratulates Arac Oscar on his first class. Photo-Davidson Ndyabahika

When he was born, he was told that his father passed on, shortly after his mother conceived; “My mother was 6 months pregnant. I wasn’t born yet and my father passed away. I am told he was a UPDF soldier who died at a rank of Sergeant. At that time, I am told that there was limited attention to photography in my village. As of today, I can’t figure out how he looked like”

He grew up under the care of his beloved maternal grandfather, the now late Mathias Obuku who stepped in to fill the father gap at Angwengotop village, Amuge Parish, Alito sub-county in Kole district.

His past, he says has shaped his view of life and influenced his life. In 1993, Osar Arac enrolled to Agoma Primary School where completed his Primary Leaving Examination and passed in 2nd division in 2001. He would later be admitted to Alito Secondary School where he studied for only one year but later transferred to Aculbanya Secondary School, also in Kole District in 2003 after the unfortunate abduction incident. He was here until 2005.

Arac recollects the ugly days of his childhood when he was abducted by the LRA when one day in the wee hours of the morning in June 2002 when they invaded his school, a few meters from his home and was abducted alongside other people he can’t recall. 

At the age 13 then, Arac says his dream of ever going back to school had been shattered by the incident. It seemed mission impossible but kept patient and resilient until an opportunity presented itself for him to escape.

“I remember I had just turned 13 that year. My Guardian could not afford boarding fees. I, together with other colleagues rented a small room near the School to cut on the cost of living at the school dormitories. One night, the rebels invaded our school and took us along with them,” recalls Arac.

They trekked from Pajule via Pader district into the deep of the jungles. “This was horrific. I used to hear that the rebels would abduct people but had never witnessed. It was my turn. It felt like a dream but I realized I was under captivity when all my freedom was gone. I would spend almost every day of my three months in the bush crying. Sometimes I would fail to walk and they carry me on their shoulders in turns,” says Arac.

What kept him strong was the zeal for education he had. “Escaping from captivity was my priority and I badly wanted to go to back School,” says Arac.

Three months later, he says he, alongside other children were rescued by the UPDF soldiers when the rebel groups were attacked. Eventually, he was handed over to Red cross team which drove him to his home.

 But he was living in fear of being abducted again by the rebels. At his tender age, he most times stayed awake in the nights in case the rebels came hunting for him.

This childhood experience however, would later torment his childhood life and subsequently affected his performance at School. But aware of his background, Arac says he knew the meaning of education and knew he would shape his future well only if he studied. He pursued his academics despite the numerous challenges along the way. In 2005 for instance, he passed his Ordinary Level Education with a 2nd Division grade at Aculbanya Secondary School.

He was then, admitted to a missionary School -Comboni College in Lira for his Advanced Level.  He obtained 11 points in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Agriculture (PCB/A). These marks, earned him an admission to study a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Gulu University in 2008. This was however on Private and he could hardly raise any fees to pursue the course. He was told however that he would win a government slot if he went for a Certificate or Diploma in a tertiary institution.

In fact, his Uncle, Mr. Jasper Okello, an Environmental Health Officer in Otuke District inspired him to pursue a career by doing a Diploma of Environmental Health at Mbale School of Hygiene in 2008 which he enrolled, later graduating with a CGPA of 3.93 in 2010.

“I loved how he conducted himself. Changing the health status of the community he worked in made me love the course. When I joined the course, I found it unique because it was a course where you get field experience by engaging with communities, change their health behaviors and make them responsible for their health,” says Arac.

While at Mbale School of Hygiene, Arac says he juggled between work and studies. He obtained a job as a pump attendant “I faced a lot of financial challenges since I am the bread-winner in the family.”

Following his Diploma, Arac says he tried several job opportunities fruitlessly. He recalls the days he applied to work as a Health Inspector in Kole, Alebtong, and Otuke District but could not get a slot.

First Class graduands from School of Public Health 2022. #Mak72ndGrad. Photo by Davidson Ndyabahika
First Class graduands from the School of Public Health 2022. #Mak72ndGrad. Photo by Davidson Ndyabahika

After several unsuccessful attempts to get a job, Arac says a friend urged him to join the the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), which at that time was recruiting health professionals and that is how he joined the Army in 2011. Upon completion of his training, he got deployed as a Health Inspector with the Chieftaincy of Medical Services under the Directorate of Public Health, UPDF.

In 2016, he was admitted to Makerere University but could not proceed with the the course because of financial calls. He applied again and in 2018, Arac was admitted on Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, Makerere University.

Being a privately sponsored student, it meant that he had to continue work to secure his tuition and fend family. “The course is so practical and it demanded almost all my personal time. But I pressed on. I am thankful to the UPDF family especially the Education Implementation Board for giving me an opportunity to study,” says Arac.

His inspirational quote is from Harriet Tubman; who once said ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer.’ I am very excited that I am here as one of the best students,” says Arac.

Arach attributes his outstanding performance to teamwork, and not just an individual effort, a trait he has since learned from the forces.

Arac Oscar, First Class Graduand of the 72nd Graduation Ceremony from the Makerere University School of Public Health. Photo-Davidson Ndyabahika
Arac Oscar, First Class Graduand of the 72nd Graduation Ceremony from the Makerere University School of Public Health. Photo-Davidson Ndyabahika

#MakerereAt100 #Mak72ndGrad

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Mak Researchers Partner with Safe Bangle Technologies to Roll out a Real-Time Domestic Violence Reporting Bracelet

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A Woman putting on the Real-Time Domestic Violence Reporting Bracelet. Makerere University School of Public Health/Resilient Africa Network (MakSPH/RAN), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Somero Uganda, Safe Bangle Technologies roll out of a real-time domestic violence reporting bracelet. Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

By Joseph Odoi

A Consortium of Researchers from Makerere University School of Public Health/Resilient Africa Network (MakSPH/RAN), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Somero Uganda together with Safe Bangle Technologies have rolled out a real time domestic violence reporting bracelet.

    This roll out was made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER) program and the National Academies of Sciences.

    Dr. Juliet Kiguli, the Principal Investigator from Makerere University, along with Dr. Roy Mayega, Deputy Chief of Party at RAN, and Dr. Agnes Nyabigambo, the study coordinator, initiated the PEER program to identify entry points for testing SafeBangle Technologies (a social enterprise based at Resilient Africa Network (RAN) with a mission to create a safer and more secure environment for women and children through innovative, affordable, and creative technology solutions to curb GBV in Africa.) wearable safety bracelet in the informal settlements. This decision stemmed from findings of increased intimate partner violence (IPV) and gender-based violence (GBV) in three informal settlements in Kampala, Uganda, following a longitudinal study, geospatial mapping, and interviews. The project, titled ‘The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Gender-Based Violence among Women and Girls in Informal Settlements in Kampala,’ highlighted the urgent need for affordable and immediate reporting mechanisms for violence.”

    ‘’While carrying out a study after the Covid-19 Pandemic, we identified gaps when it comes to reporting and response to Gender Based Violence (GBV) among women in informal settlements. Therefore, we used incorporated the SafeBangle intervention to solve the problem of lack of affordable and immediate reporting mechanisms for violence using a bracelet that reports violence in real time’’ explained Dr. Kiguli.

    Innovation details

    According to Saul Kabali and Messach Luminsa, the innovators behind SafeBangle from SafeBangle Technologies, hosted at the Resilient African Network Lab. ‘’The inspiration behind SafeBangle came from a deeply personal place. ‘’We heard countless stories of women who couldn’t call for help during moments of danger. We were deeply affected by the story of Aisha, a young woman in a rural village who was attacked while walking home alone at night. With no way to call for help, she felt helpless and vulnerable. This incident made us realize the critical need for immediate reporting alert tools, accessible to women like Aisha. We knew technology could play a crucial role and this incident awakened a strong desire in us to create a solution’’

    Saul Kabali, Executive Director and Chief Operations Lead at SafeBangle Technologies explaining how the bracelet works at 2023 Imara Girls Festival exhibition. Makerere University School of Public Health/Resilient Africa Network (MakSPH/RAN), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Somero Uganda, Safe Bangle Technologies roll out of a real-time domestic violence reporting bracelet. Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
    Saul Kabali, Executive Director and Chief Operations Lead at SafeBangle Technologies explaining how the bracelet works at 2023 Imara Girls Festival exhibition.

    “While developing SafeBangle, we tested with the users in both rural and urban contexts. We piloted the innovation around Kampala with support from Digital Human Righs Lab and Naguru Youth Health Network as well as it in five districts of Karamoja region with support from Save the Children and Response Innovation Lab. Right now it has become handy in Kamapala‘s informal settlements. We envision a future where SafeBangle becomes a standard tool in the fight against GBV, ensuring every woman feels safe and secure as it has the potential to transform how we respond to GBV in Africa” added Kabali.

    HOW THE SAFEBANGLE TECHNOLOGY WORKS

    The SafeBangle is wearable technology similar to a smartwatch that sends an alarm by SMS to people chosen by a woman herself if she feels threatened.

    How the SafeBangle Real-time Domestic Violence Reporting Bracelet works.  Makerere University School of Public Health/Resilient Africa Network (MakSPH/RAN), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Somero Uganda, Safe Bangle Technologies roll out of a real-time domestic violence reporting bracelet. Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
    How the SafeBangle Real-time Domestic Violence Reporting Bracelet works.

    In terms of the acceptability of the SafeBangle innovation as a solution to GBV among at-risk women in informal settlements Of the 72 adolescent girls and women who received the SafeBangle, 22 activated the reporting button, resulting in 19 receiving immediate and appropriate support, including counseling, police intervention, and health services.

    All adolescent girls and women who experienced GBV received a phone call from Somero Uganda to discuss the most appropriate intervention, including counseling, police cases being handled by the probation office, referral for health services, and post-exposure prophylaxis. All the GBV survivors received support and are still receiving continuous follow-up.

    Researchers conducted a survey among 644 girls and women in Kinawataka (Nakawa Division) and Bwaise (Kawempe Division) to gain insights into awareness and understanding of sexual and gender-based violence among adolescent girls and women in informal settlements. The survey measured socioeconomic factors, mental health symptoms, and exposure to GBV. Focus group interviews were conducted with a separate sample of women over 18 in the settlements to explore responses to GBV.

    Preliminary impact of SafeBangle on tracked survivors.  Makerere University School of Public Health/Resilient Africa Network (MakSPH/RAN), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Somero Uganda, Safe Bangle Technologies roll out of a real-time domestic violence reporting bracelet. Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
    Preliminary impact of SafeBangle on tracked survivors.

    A tabular representation of the key findings and lessons learned from your study on gender-based violence (GBV)

    Key FindingsLessons learned
    Prevalence of GBV.
    – Overall prevalence: 34.1% of women and girls reported experiencing GBV.
    – Among adolescents (15-19 years): Over 50% reported experiencing GBV.
    – The pandemic highlighted the need for accessible and comprehensive support services for GBV survivors.
    – Schools emerged as crucial safe spaces for girls, emphasizing their well-being during crises.
    – Economic independence proved crucial, enabling women to leave abusive environments.
    – Involving men and boys as allies in GBV prevention efforts is essential.
    Age-related trends– GBV prevalence tends to decrease with increasing age.
    Physical and health consequences.– Women and girls suffered physical violence, injuries, and deaths, primarily from domestic violence and unsafe abortions due to limited healthcare access.
    – GBV resulted in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) like HIV/AIDS.
    Social and economic impact. .– GBV contributed to family breakups, strained marriages due to financial stress.
    – Economic hardships forced some women and girls into transactional sex, exposing them to further health risks and exploitation.
    – Pandemic-related job losses and economic constraints increased financial dependence on abusers, trapping women in violent situations.
    – School closures and increased household responsibilities limited women’s job opportunities and subjected them to sexual harassment.
    Psychological effects– Survivors experienced guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, and suicidal thoughts due to ongoing abuse.
    Long-term effects– Post-COVID-19, survivors faced disrupted education, early marriages, pregnancies, social stigma, and persistent mental health issues.
    A tabular representation of the key findings and lessons learned from your study on gender-based violence (GBV)

    Reproductive Health Consequences: GBV resulted in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) like HIV/AIDS.

    Family Breakdown: The rise in GBV led to family breakups as women fled abusive relationships. Marriages were strained due to increased financial stress.

    Transactional Sex for Survival: Desperate for basic needs due to job losses and economic hardship, some women and girls resorted to transactional sex, exposing them to further health risks and exploitation.

    One study participant stated, “The time of COVID-19 was so terrible for some of us. We in fact got a lot of diseases from it because you would want to get food and didn’t have money. That way you would be forced to get a man who would use you and pay.” – (FGD_Girls_19–24years_Kinawataka).

    Economic Effects: COVID-19 restrictions caused job losses and limited economic opportunities, particularly for women in the informal sector. This increased financial dependence on abusers and trapped women in violent situations.

    Limited Access to Employment: School closures and increased household chores limited women’s ability to seek employment, perpetuating gender inequality in the workforce. Some faced sexual harassment from potential employers.

    Psychological Effects: Survivors of GBV experienced guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, and even suicidal thoughts due to the constant threat and unpredictability of abuse.

    Post-COVID Effects: GBV survivors faced long-term consequences, including disrupted education, early marriage, early pregnancy, social stigma, and persistent mental health issues.

    Lessons learned

    The pandemic highlighted the need for accessible and comprehensive support services for survivors of GBV, the significance of schools as safe spaces for girls, and the need to prioritize their well-being during crises. Economic empowerment emerged as a significant protective factor for women and girls. Those with greater economic independence were better equipped to leave abusive environments and secure their safety and well-being, while dependent ones suffered abuses. Engaging men and boys as allies in the fight against GBV and involving them in prevention efforts can help promote positive behavior change and foster more equitable relationships.

    Recommendations

    To address GBV against women and girls, the researchers recommend the following moving forward;

    1. There is need to integrate technology-driven solutions like SafeBangle into national GBV prevention and response strategies. SafeBangle can be a valuable tool for policymakers as cases of violence that would have gone unreported will be brought to light and the would-be victims will be able to get immediate help from trusted relatives and friends.
    2. Provide economic opportunities and vocational training for women and girls to enhance their financial independence and reduce vulnerability to violence. There is therefore a need to introduce education and training programs that empower women and girls, by providing them with skills, resources, and opportunities to start their own ventures and to participate fully in community affairs.
    3. Strengthen and enforce existing laws and policies related to GBV, including laws against domestic violence, child marriage, and sexual assault without discrimination be it for law enforcers, leaders, and employers where such cases were suffocated. Ensure that perpetrators are held accountable through swift and fair legal processes that have no room for corruption.
    4. Establish and promote effective, accessible, and confidential reporting mechanisms for GBV incidents that provide confidence and can be trusted by survivors to enhance reporting of such incidences of GBV. Community Engagement and Involvement: Involve community leaders, religious leaders, and elders in discussions about GBV to promote gender equality, change social norms, and reinforce the message that violence against women and girls is unacceptable.
    5. Launch extensive public awareness campaigns to challenge harmful gender norms, report cases of GBV, raise awareness about the consequences of GBV, and promote positive behaviors and attitudes towards women and girls.
    6. Implement comprehensive sexuality education in schools and communities, educating young people about healthy relationships, consent, and reproductive rights to be able to make informed decisions about their own lives and well-being.
    7. Engage men and boys as allies in the fight against GBV, encouraging them to challenge harmful masculinity norms and behaviors. This will help minimize GBV because mostly they are the perpetrators. Strengthening Support for Survivors: Provide ongoing support and follow-up services for survivors of GBV mostly counselling services to aid their recovery and facilitate their reintegration into society.
    8. Provide ongoing support and follow-up services for survivors of GBV, mostly counseling services to aid their recovery and facilitate their reintegration into society.
    9. Provide avenues to seek free or subsidized services by survivors of GBV medical services and legal processes by survivors of GBV to enhance reporting of GBV cases, access to medical care, counseling, legal support, and other essential services.
    10. Encourage and support more research and innovations like SafeBangle to curb incidents of GBV.
    11. A comprehensive and inclusive approach is required. The efforts should involve government institutions, civil society organizations, community leaders, and individuals working together to address the root causes and provide support to survivors.
    12. Involve media in GBV prevention activities and for enhancing campaigns against GBV mostly on radio and TV.

    MORE ABOUT THE STUDY

    The core project team, included researchers at Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) led by Prof.  Julia Dickson-Gomez, SafeBangle Technologies, and Somero Uganda, a community-focused NGO, began the project by designing their research protocol and taking a CITI Program course on human subjects social/behavioral research. Team members also met with the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development (MGLSG) in support of the gender-based violence policy process, Ministry of Health and local government. They also established relationships with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and Nakawa and Kawempe probation offices to support legal processes for the GBV survivors. SafeBangle Team also received an award from Defenders Protection Initiative.

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    Digital Mobile Technologies to Study Tuberculosis: A Multi-Discplinary Program

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    An aerial view of the Makerere University School of Public Health construction site on the Main Campus. To the Right is the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) and in the background are Dag Hammaskjold Hall (Green roof) and University Hall (Brown tiles).

    A TRAINING PROGRAM SPONSORED BY FOGARTY INTERNATIONAL CENTER NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH, USA

    INFORMATIONAL SESSION

    Makerere University School of Public Health under D43 multi-disciplinary training program in digital mobile technologies to study tuberculosis that was recently funded by the NIH, through the University of Georgia (UGA) has an opportunity for funding of a masters’ research thesis. This is available to two (02) first year students of the Graduate programmes offered at Makerere University who have progressed to concept proposal development stage of their graduate program. These should be in good academic standing and have or are about to complete year 1 in Academic Year 2023/24. The support will start at the beginning of Academic Year 2024/25, i.e., end of August 2024 when the students are starting their year 2.  Students of geography and or digital health related courses are encouraged to apply, females too.  Students will be provided with secondary data to address the following, or similar, issues relating to tuberculosis (TB):

    1. Characterizing mobility patterns between urban and rural areas of Uganda using archived cell-phone (CDR) metadata
    2. Correlation between self-reported geolocated mobility patterns of TB patients and CDR data
    3. Differences in mobility patterns of TB patient’s pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis
    4. Gender differences and relationship between IGRA and TST in a prospective cohort
    5. Patterns of change in serial IGRA test results by sex, age, HIV status
    6. Temporal changes in contact, mobility and geographic networks in TB converters and non-converters
    7. Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) of social contacts and location patterns of movement by residents at risk for TB infection

    Interested students are encouraged to attend an information session on Wednesday 17th July 2024 at MakSPH Annex Kololo where details about the research questions and funding opportunity will be provided to prospective applicants. Prospective applicants will be required to work with their mentors and training grant personnel to develop a 2-5-page concept that will be vetted for possible funding by training faculty of the training program.

    Interested students should register their attendance with the training Coordinator, Mr Ivan Mutyaba by sending an email expressing interest in attending the session to imutyaba@musph.ac.ug by close of business on Thursday, 11th July 2024.

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    METS Newsletter June 2024

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    Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) Dean, Prof Rhoda Wanyenze (Left), MoH Director General, Dr. Henry Mwebesa (Right) and other stakeholders join Dr. Amy Boore (2nd Right) to cut cake at her farewell event. Golden Tulip Hotel, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

    The Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Support (METS) Program is a 5-year CDC-supported collaboration of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Health Information Systems Program (HISP Uganda).

    Highlights of the METS June 2024 Newsletter

    • Tracking Trends in HIV Outcomes: The Implementation of HIV Case-Based Surveillance
      • METS in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and various implementing partners, is spearheading the HIV Case-Based Surveillance (CBS) initiative across Uganda. By February 2024, CBS had been activated in 504 health facilities, with 349 sites (69%) actively transmitting data.
      • Trends of New HIV Diagnosis: An analysis trends over a 20-year period (2000-2022) revealed an increase in new HIV diagnosis over time, peaking in 2014 and 2018, before starting to decline. Diagnoses among females consistently exceeded those among males each year.
      • Case-Based Surveillance (CBS) complimenting other HIV surveillance programs: CBS provides valuable insights into infection patterns and highlights the need for targeted interventions, particularly among females. Next steps include continued scale up of CBS implementation to reach 80% of ART sites; improving data transmission from facility to the national repository to achieve at least 90% of the CBS activated sites; and strengthening data analytics and use of the data for program improvement.
    • Enhancing HIV Prevention Data Collection Through Bootcamps
      • METS in collaboration with HISP Uganda held a workshop in Mbarara to update the Health Management Information System (HMIS) tools for PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in the HIV Prevention Tracker. The workshop focused on digitizing paper forms to efficiently collect data on key and priority populations.
    • Electronic Medical Records (EMR) upgrades in Eastern Uganda
      • The two-week activity kicked off with a week-long training session at Northeast Villa in Kumi focused on the enhancements of UgandaEMR+, including improved point-of-care (POC) functionalities and data visualization techniques.
      • The initiative successfully trained over 15 AIDS Information Centre (AIC) staff members, including M&E leads, IT personnel, data officers, and M&E managers, in the practical use of UgandaEMR+. Additionally, the two facilities, Ochero HCIII and Kapelebyong HCIV, were upgraded and their staff trained on the new system.
    • Tribute to Dr. Joshua Musinguzi (9/09/1963 – 7/06/2024)
      • Dr. Joshua Musinguzi’s efforts to minimize HIV incidence and death strategically focused on translating knowledge into policies and actions, which has helped Uganda manage the HIV epidemic.
    • Gallery
      • Bidding farewell to Dr. Amy Boore, Program Director, Division of Global Health Protection – CDC
      • Analysing the UgandaEMR Clinical Laboratory Module
      • UgandaEMR+ training for USAID SITES
      • Training for clinicians at Ruharo Mission Hospital on SARI and ILI
      • HIV Treatment Services (HTS) Implementers Meeting

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