Meet the 2018 Healthcare Provider Champions
Elie Ballan nominated Nesrine Rizk for:
The exceptional care that she provides. Throughout the last 11 years in her care, she has been a good listener and an excellent service provider. Dr Rizk is never judgmental or discriminatory. I had been honest from the beginning about being a gay man, and that did not change her attitude towards me. Instead, it allowed me space to express more details of my life so she could provide me with better care. Always attentive to every detail, she makes sure I do not miss any opportunity to improve as a client and an individual. I ran into Dr Rizk at AIDS 2016 in Durban, and that is where she discovered my activism in the field of HIV and AIDS. From then on and through working closely with her, I got to know more of her passion towards finding the best treatment, looking after her clients and treating everyone without stigma regardless of HIV status or being a key population. To her, everyone is a person worthy of a healthy, long life. I can see the passion in her work extending beyond the clinic –to seminars, activism, advocacy and worrying about the community day and night. In our country, HIV is still very stigmatized and many primary healthcare providers are mean or degrading to gay and other men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers and transgender women. I think this award will set an example for other healthcare providers in my country and also for our community. It relays the message that there is hope for stigma-free treatment, and that there are doctors who will go the extra mile inside and outside of the clinic.
Nesrine Afif Rizk : I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
The worldwide HIV epidemic touches on so many social and sometimes political aspects. This is especially important across the Middle East and North Africa region and in Lebanon, where people living with HIV and AIDS experience violations of their human rights, harassment and discrimination. HIV rights are human rights. I am sensitive to the issues related to key populations in this part of the world. Unfortunately, HIV stigma and discrimination against the LGBT community are very pervasive in this context.
The spectrum of HIV care includes preventative services, medical care, medical treatment, health education and psychosocial support. This provision of care should be delivered in a respectful manner. Preventing access to essential health services for key populations coupled with stigma and ignorance, hinders our efforts to stop the HIV epidemic.
My clients – both women and men – are a daily inspiration of courage, dignity and resilience. They are fighting against HIV and against stigma and ignorance. I try to provide the best medical care to all clients. My clients are my inspiration to fight for a world of justice where all individuals are equal. Beyond the virus are human beings who deserve additional support and a lot of love to carry on and live with HIV and fight HIV-related stigma, isolation and sometimes rejection.
The love of humanity is essential to the art of medicine. "Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always" - Hippocrates. I hope to never fail this mission. I am humbled and touched by this nomination. This is a recognition to all the HIV physicians in the world who are fighting the good fight and to my mentors and teachers.
THE TURNING POINT FOR ME WAS when I attended the AIDS 2010 conference. Back then, I was working in the United States. It was not in my plans to work in Lebanon, but I met a group of Lebanese activists who were attending the conference. We started discussing what was it like to be HIV-positive in Lebanon. What I heard inspired me to move back and be closer to the fight.
Dalausi Sempijja nominated Geoffrey Phillip Wandawa for:
The wonderful job that he has done in providing healthcare services to key populations. My name is Dalausi Sempijja a.k.a Mrs Pontosh and I am a transgender woman. I have lived with HIV for the last 10 years. I work as a peer leader for key populations, and I am also the Executive Director for the Friends of the Marginalized Uganda, an organization founded three years ago to provide services for transgender women living with HIV and AIDS in eastern Uganda.
In Uganda, there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination towards key populations and when I tried to access services from other healthcare providers, no one was willing to help me, apart from Phillip Wandawa. He counseled me, initiated me on treatment and trained me to become a peer leader for fellow key populations, with whom I was able to form my own organization that serves transgender women living with HIV.
Phillip stood out to me as the best healthcare provider when I went to the healthcare facility in Mbale for the first time. Another healthcare provider that was supposed to counsel me did not want to take my case, and was rotating my file around the facility hoping for another counselor to take me. In the end, he hid my file in the storage. Phillip saw that I was sitting in the waiting area the whole day and the facility was closing, so he asked if I had been served yet. Phillip found my file in the storage. He came back, took me to the counseling room and made sure that I got the services I came for. No one cared about me at the facility, and being a man who “walks like a woman”, everyone would say “who would treat this one”. Now, every time I go to the clinic, other doctors say, “Phillip, your people have come”. We are not Phillip’s people, but we are people who want services like anyone else.
Geoffrey Phillip Wandawa: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
In Uganda, key populations still face a lot of stigma and discrimination. Due to the strict laws in our country, key populations remain in the closet and this is a hindrance to the free access of healthcare services. As a healthcare provider, I am always driven by passion and respect for human rights and equal access, especially for underserved populations. It’s for this reason that I have a zeal to serve marginalized groups.
THE TURNING POINT FOR ME WAS when I lost a relative who was a female sex worker. At the time, we had a lot of stigma and it was not “acceptable” for someone to be a sex worker, because the woman is supposed to have one man. She was doing it to survive, but no one in the community would accept that. Maybe if I had completed medical school by then, she might not have died. I could have helped her. She died due to stigma and rejection. Based on that experience, I thought that people should receive services, no matter who they are.
Judith Nthini nominated Loveness Bowa Gunda for:
The commitment, passion and hardworking spirit she has demonstrated in serving us [female sex workers] in the district of Machinga. Our healthcare provider, Loveness, upholds the values of privacy, confidentiality and a judgment-free approach in serving key populations. This has reduced barriers that we face in accessing, enrolling and remaining in HIV treatment and care services.
I am a sex worker and I work with a non-governmental organization (YONECO) in Malawi under the LINKAGES Project as a peer educator to reach fellow female sex workers in the fight against HIV.
Loveness Bowa Gunda: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
The health needs of key populations should be a priority focus area in order to reduce the HIV epidemic in countries and communities. That is why I am committed to providing comprehensive information and services on HIV and other areas related to sex workers and their clients in the Machinga District, Malawi.
Structural barriers hinder sex workers and their clients in accessing HIV testing and other related healthcare services. Because of this, I wanted to provide a stigma and discrimination free environment for key populations where they can access HIV services.
THE TURNING POINT FOR ME WAS when a female sex worker came to my drop-in centre to access services after she had stopped taking antiretrovirals. When I asked her why she had stopped, she said that the last time she went to the clinic to collect the medication, the healthcare provider told her, “I can’t help you because you got the virus deliberately”. I felt bad because a healthcare provider had let her down and was doing nothing in the fight against HIV.
Oхana Ibragimova nominated Gulzhakhan Mazhitovna Akhmetova for:
Explaining to the medical community the importance of expanding the methadone programme. In our country, opioid substitution therapy has been a "pilot" project for the past 10 years. The medical community is still divided over the decision on whether or not to maintain and expand the programme throughout the country. In Kazakhstan, there are currently sites for opioid substitution therapy in 13 cities, and until now, no final decision has been made to introduce this programme nationally as one of the methods of treatment or to ban it. Unfortunately, even narcologists are against the introduction of the methadone programme in Kazakhstan. But Dr Akhmetova always defends and convinces the medical community to adopt this scientifically based method of treatment. Dr Akhmetova helps to conduct lectures and training sessions among medical workers on changing attitudes towards the methadone programme. She also helped us to make our case and get state funding for harm reduction programmes, namely the syringe exchange programme, in Almaty.
What distinguishes Dr Akhmetova is that even in the most hopeless of situations, when everyone else does not know what to do, she will always find the right words to console you and find a real solution to the problem. She is always ready to help each and every one of her clients.
Gulzhakhan Mazhitovna Akhmetova: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I really like helping people. I am happy that my professional knowledge and skills can be useful. I believe that every person is worthy of respect and has the right to full access to healthcare. Unfortunately, some Kazakhstani medical workers do not want to help people who inject drugs. They say that people who inject drugs "only have themselves to blame for their problems and there is no point in helping them". But I firmly believe people with an addiction have a lot of additional challenges and are in particular need of comprehensive assistance and healthcare. They require different services to address their psychological, social and medical needs. Not only am I very respectful of each of my clients, but I also try to teach respect to my fellow doctors, medical students and nurses.
THE TURNING POINT FOR ME WAS when I had just started my medical career. One of my female clients was an injecting drug user who passed away because we were not able to provide her with the right services in time. She had a small child who was left an orphan. It had a profound impact on me for a long time, and to this day, I still cannot talk about it calmly. People should not die, especially if it is in our power to prevent it.