Meet the 2023 Healthcare Provider Champions - Latin America and the Caribbean
Alzyr Brasileiro nominated Wandson Padilha for:
Dr Padilha is a very important doctor for us in the LGBTQIAP+ population, in addition to being a militant of our cause. He is a health activist; his concern goes beyond his professional dedication. Active, attentive and welcoming … this is how we define this doctor who fights for the health of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transgender people and more. He acts strongly for the implementation of PrEP here in Petrolina and the prevention of STIs and HIV. Every Thursday, he works at the UBS in Vila Eduardo only for LGBT+ people, mainly trans people, confronting a conservative public administration, and providing access to health for our population.
Wandson Padilha: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
One of the first things is to understand that one should not stigmatize any people who are seeking follow-up care related to sexuality issues; one should not judge sexual practices and partnerships. Our role is that of caregivers and not judges; it is a role of building, together with the person, a path of care, and this involves understanding aspects of sexuality in all possible ways of relating and having pleasure.
Our role is, with the person, to build the process of knowledge, for us to understand from them and learn from their questions. They can also learn, with us, the care, self-care and treatment processes, when necessary, and understand that there are people who, even with all their stigmatizing and moralizing, will not reach us. So, one of the most important things is to do active searches. If there are spaces where vulnerable people are made even more vulnerable, this is where we will have to look for people to provide care. If I know that there is a certain place where people exchange sex for money, it is in that place that I will offer care and see what the best times are for the best possibilities for care.
Lately, I've been using relationship apps to actively seek out and disseminate healthcare strategies and publicize PrEP and other prevention mechanisms for STIs. On Grindr, we have created a PrEP profile and introduced it to people. We use this space for information and knowledge exchange. There are also more vulnerable populations who end up not accessing many health services. I work in a space that specifically cares for trans people and transvestites who already have, throughout their social context, difficulty in accessing health services. We also do active searches for these people, with guidance and provision of care to create a bond. Based on this bond, we can also discuss issues related to sexuality.
The idea is for us to expand our view beyond the box and try to visualize that the care processes related to sexuality are much broader than what we are used to thinking.
Clara nominated Lívia Medeiros for:
She always treated me with a lot of humanity and love. She brought me comfort, support and strength to bear the idea of living with HIV. She showed me that it wasn't the end of the world, that I could have a normal life, that my life wasn't over because of it. She was a friend, a true guardian angel. All the assistance and care with which she has taken care of me for nine years has helped me avoid falling into depression. It helped me understand and live with what I have. We have been together since my diagnosis in 2013, and God could not have put a better professional in my path. She helped me to overcome it and, today, living with HIV is not a problem for me. The sick are uninformed and prejudiced people.
She deserves all the honours in the world for being an excellent professional and 100% human. She was concerned from the first day, not only with my treatment, but with my personal life, paying attention to the medication that interfered with my daily life, supporting me with everything I needed. She was always available, always accessible by phone when I had questions or when I needed something. I am grateful to have known her. Living with HIV became much easier with her.
Lívia Medeiros: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I graduated in 2005, and I don't remember anyone keeping medical records the way I try to keep them. I organize them in a different way, registering not only the patient’s status, but also including information and attaching personal messages and reminders for them. This is also about respect – a medical register with dignity.
I told my residents: “You will harvest what you plant. That person who you saw in the first consultation, who you looked at eye to eye, who you treated, who you actively listened to as they spoke about this difficulty, the impact of the diagnosis, the family issues and the sadness … certainly, this person will be your friend and ally. You don't have to see them as a job. You have to see them as partners. Look in their eyes and treat the soul that is sick.”
I have patients here at the care centre that I have been following for 10 years. HIV is no longer a concern and we focus on preventive care in ageing and building quality of life. A person once told me: “Today I have better health than before I had HIV.”
* To protect the identity of the nominator, a pseudonym is used.
João nominated Pollyanna Rodrigues for:
I nominated Pollyanna because she is a kind person who treats everyone with love. She took me in at the worst time of my life and made me understand that HIV was not the end. She held my hand and said that we were together until the end. She is a wonderful person who changed the approach of the service. Before, I didn’t even like to go there. Today, I feel better there than I do at home.
Pollyanna Rodrigues: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I am a nurse and postgraduate in infectology. I work at the municipal infectious diseases centre in Campina Grande, Paraíba, where the majority of the target population are people living with HIV who are diagnosed, monitored and treated here.
I think people feel more welcome when you start hearing their stories and making them the centre of services. We know that there are many taboos, which sometimes drive people to try to isolate themselves from their own communities and families. They live in conflict with themselves. And when you try to approach that person and show them that they are an individual who they have to love and respect, they start to see life with different eyes. That’s what we aim to do – show people who are not okay with themselves because of their clinical condition that this is not the end of the world, that although HIV has no cure, there is treatment and that they can lead a normal life.
They undergo treatment and are accompanied by professionals and are always respected in this environment where they come for treatment and consultations. This is like a second home for them. This is important because you realize that your work has made a difference in someone's life. Even a gesture, a friendly word beyond professionalism, can transform a person’s life.
* To protect the identity of the nominator, a pseudonym is used.
Ricardo nominated Iuçara Medeiros for:
She treated me with humanity and made me feel welcome. I felt that she understood me when, from the first time, she bothered to talk to me and find out how I was doing.
I feel very comfortable and, for the first time, I am not embarrassed being attended to by someone even when my medicine is delivered. Iucara is amazing and very welcoming. She encourages me to not abandon the treatment. It makes a lot of difference in my life.
Iuçara Medeiros: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I was always concerned about somehow helping people access medication. We live in the backlands, and whenever people needed anything, they had to go to the capital. What could we do to reduce all these trips? So, I talked about bringing the distribution of medication to our management here. People now choose where they get their medication, whether in our city or elsewhere, but with much easier access.
* To protect the identity of the nominator, a pseudonym is used.
Axcel Israel Reyes González nominated Carolina Limón Hernández for:
I first came into contact with Carolina in 2017. I had recently come out of the closet to my parents, so my mom got her number through a friend. From the first time I met Carolina, I knew I was in the best hands. I was scared, mostly because I knew that not every psychologist had the perspective on queer issues that I needed. But Carolina was all love and she understood that my process with her wouldn’t be about accepting or denying my sexuality. In those first sessions, she helped me a lot with my confidence and self-esteem as a young gay boy. We lost contact when I started college.
In 2019, I was doing some summer classes when I got sick and wasn’t getting better. So I decided to take an HIV test and it was positive. My mom was with me and our doctor when we opened the test, and I told my closest friends and family right after that. Those first days were scary to me and my family, but I already knew I was going to be okay with the right treatment, and that included coming back to Carolina.
I was back in school and also heartbroken and dealing with more self-esteem issues in addition to the diagnosis. Carolina guided my next year and a half. She helped me get out of my head and I learnt how to get a closer and better support system with the people I love. She convinced me of the power I had by trusting the right people and my abilities and talents. I’m so happy I got to meet an intelligent, loving and professional psychologist, someone I learned to love, and now I’m just trying to keep spreading the message and things she taught me.
My diagnosis also gave me so much to think and say. I had an urge to speak about HIV and, with the confidence I gained with Carolina, I decided that it was time for me to start doing drag. I was already hanging out with local queer artists here in Tijuana; the artistry, freedom and glamour of this environment got me so inspired and in love with it that I wanted to be a part of it. By being Alanina (my drag persona), I gained more confidence. I started trusting my creativity and my voice, and that got me closer to creative, interesting and awesome people. I met a lot of beautiful queer activists, artists and drag queens who continued teaching me to be myself.
In the summer of 2022, it was three years for me living with HIV. After an incredible pride month, I was sure that I wanted to be completely open about my HIV and so I came out of the closet, again. I had a great response from friends and other people, and very soon, I was helping others simply by being unapologetically myself and sharing information. Later that year, I went to a meeting called “Sidosidades Maricas”, organized by “Inspira Cambio”, with only people with HIV participating. I was so happy with everything I learnt and all the great people I met. Most importantly. I learned my favourite phrase: “Orgullo Sidoso.”
The past four years of my life had been tough but exciting, and Carolina has impacted my process in the best ways. I carry with me everything that she taught me and I always try to share that message so we can create more and better queer spaces and communities because I’m sure that’s what we deserve.
Carolina Limón Hernández: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I’m a graduate in psychology and hold a Master’s in family therapy from Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo Humano. I have also completed several courses, workshops and diplomas, including in teamwork skills development and cognitive behavioural group therapy for drug dependence.
In my professional career, I have gained broad work experience in the field of mental health in the state of Baja California, Mexico. I worked at the Diagnostic Center for Teenagers from 2008 to 2009 and have 14 years of experience in the public sector as part of the detection, diagnosis and monitoring areas of the Institute of Psychiatry of the State of Baja California. I was Deputy State Director of the Program for the Prevention of Addiction – FORMA from 2017 to 2019 and State Coordinator for addiction prevention and treatment programmes from 2022 to 2023. In 2021, I worked for the State Commission for the Penitentiary Facility of El Hongo, providing mental health services to inmates. I was Professor at Universidad Iberoamericana from 2018 to 2021, teaching students in the psychology programme at Tijuana campus.
I have participated in networks that stimulate citizen participation, such as creating the Municipal Network for Suicide Prevention and the Municipal Committee against Addictions in Tijuana, and I participated in the creation of the Mental Health Law for the State of Baja California. I have more than eight years’ experience in the clinical sector, where I offer private consultation.
Efraín Pérez García nominated Carlos Alberto López Zaragoza for:
I was diagnosed with HIV two years ago. Since I come from a deeply religious context, I could never find positive things about my sexual orientation and I was constantly criticized, condemned and pointed at. When I received my test results, I ran, crying, to my mother and sister, and told them about my situation. My torment worsened. My sister was kind. She said: “It’s fine, you’ll only have to take one pill a day, just like me.” She suffers from arthritis and that was her way to give me comfort. But things with my mother were the opposite. She told me things like: “You’re gonna die”, “I told you not to leave church”, “God is punishing you”, “I told you that you’d get AIDS”, or “This is happening to you for not believing in our religious leader.”
She was scared to death. I understand that today. However, her words destroyed my self-esteem. I had to take action, leave that place and get back up and gather strength; otherwise, her ignorance, fear and guilt – and not HIV – would have killed me.
I remember packing my clothes in garbage bags and running away from home, crying. My heart was torn to pieces; I was alone, empty and in anguish and did not know what awaited me. I remember having a hideous cough that wouldn’t stop. I had a wonderful friend who let me stay at her house. Thanks to that, I could rise again, step by step.
I began to enquire about what I needed to do next. I got medical attention directly at the Old Civic Hospital of Guadalajara. Once there, I was told about Mesón A.C., a non-profit organization. I went there because I held so much hatred for my mother and needed psychological help.
The day I got there, Carlos attended me. He was brief, but I could sense in him an aura of love for the people who went there asking for help. I was assigned to a wonderful psychologist who helped me forgive, love, accept and go forward. Mesón was the first step in a new direction for my life.
Carlos invited me to join a group of people living with HIV. We talked about our lives, fears and other things. I learnt about other stories and shared my own. I understood that talking and expressing ourselves contribute to our self-knowledge, self-love and accepting others the way they are. This group continues to help others like me, people who get there fearful and full of shame, guilt and pain, and has become a beautiful space for comprehension, love and freedom.
I am thankful for HIV. Because of it, my life has become wonderful. I also thank my partner, who was always by my side; my mother, who taught me how to love myself above everything else; Mesón and my psychologist; and Carlos, whose passion and love for his work I admire.
HIV is a rebirth and a chance that life gives us to live every day with a purpose and with love, passion and liberty.
Carlos Alberto López Zaragoza: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I was born in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, in Mexico. I am a graduate in social work from the University of Guadalajara and I have a Master's in development and social management. I am 40 years old and I've worked as a Professor in the Social Work Department of the University of Guadalajara and in the Social Work programme of Centro Universitario UTEG. I'm a public server for the National System for Integral Family Development of Guadalajara as part of its Center for Attention and Integral Development for the Homeless.
Since 2015, I have worked in the field of HIV at Mesón A.C., a non-profit organization that has responded to HIV since 1996, as a Coordinator for Integral Attention for people living with HIV and AIDS, designing strategies that promote adherence to antiretroviral treatment in the communities we work for. This stimulates the creation of life and health quality standards so that HIV is not an obstacle when people think about their future, goals, loves, dreams and ambitions. We use a perspective that is free from stigma, that is inclusive and safe, and that is centred on the person and their human rights. We pay attention to the aspects that intersect with their life conditions, including mental health issues, substance use, conditions of vulnerability, violence and violations of their rights.
Working with people who live the reality of HIV and AIDS has become a meaningful aspect in my life. In 2003, when I was 21, I went through the same circumstances. I got my HIV diagnosis and right then, had questions, rooted in fear, anger and guilt. I engaged in self-destructive behaviour as if trying to punish myself for the crime I had committed.
Questions arose with time. One was: “What for?” Thanks to my own effort, along with psychological attention, I found reasons to go on and transform my reality. I didn't know how, but I was sure that I could help others like myself, people who had lost their way and sense in life due to a diagnosis. I prepared myself to help others.
It is my ambition that, through collaborative actions, we eradicate the internalized stigma that appears after a person acquires HIV so that people living with it can regain faith in themselves and put together the personal, social, family and mental processes that get disorganized when HIV arrives in our lives. With interdisciplinary work, individual and group attention with specialized professionals and the methodological models I use as a social worker, I help people recognize themselves as complete and worthy individuals who have gained a new characteristic, which doesn’t define or change what is essential in them. To get there, I've confronted my fears, stigmas and uncertainties so that I could open hope-inspiring paths for the people I work with and with whom I share this life condition.
Juan Manuel Ibáñez Cortés nominated Miguel Angel Herrera Herrera for:
When I found out about my diagnosis in 2020, the first months were filled with uncertainty because the institution that provided me with medical attention only gave me antiretroviral drugs, but didn’t help in mitigating all my doubts and fears.
I was fortunate to meet Miguel when I approached La Manada, a psycho-educational space for LGBT people. He invited me to be part of a group formed by people living with HIV (the first of its kind in my city). Since then, it’s become an amazing journey of learning and empowerment. Miguel helped me develop tools that allowed me to give new meaning to my diagnosis, eliminate discriminatory language, identify internalized serophobia (fear or disdain of people living with HIV) and talk about sexuality without taboo or prejudice.
The work promoted in this group has allowed us to question the way that society and healthcare institutions perceive HIV. Thanks to Miguel’s sensibility, empathy and passion, we have begun to build our own narratives; he envisions each and every one of us becoming experts in HIV.
To achieve that, he proposed some self-teaching dynamics and gave us information on nutrition, therapeutic adherence and human rights. Miguel’s activist spirit drove us to realize our own capacity for action inside the group of people living with HIV. He encouraged us to protest in the state congress to demand the abolition of civil code articles that criminalized those who live with HIV and, in a historical turn of events, we succeeded in making Congress approve elimination of these articles in March 2023.
It’s clear to me that all this could not have been possible without Miguel’s work and motivation, which is why I decided to nominate him as a “champion of health” so that his humane quality gets deserved recognition.
Miguel Angel Herrera Herrera: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I'm a sexually dissident person and a psychologist. I'm 29 years old and I live in Tepic, Nayarit. Since 2019, I have approached counselling processes, diagnosis and treatment for people living with HIV in a communal and self-organized way. Doing this, I learnt about the different ways that people experience their diagnosis, as well as similarities between sex- and gender-diverse people. Prioritizing their well-being and personal context over any institutionalized bureaucracy made me aware of the violence, negligence and lack of training in my state's health services.
As part of the La Manada collective, we aimed to create spaces outside of the clinical setting where we could generate processes for learning, caring and building an agenda, and we formed a support group for people living with HIV in 2021. The listening, companionship and reflection work that we do every Tuesday has become a constant source of political conscience for me, and the group has become an important network of support for me.
With the group’s members, I have learnt the importance of creating collective experiences of trust, honesty and a sense of humour; of being sexually free; of generating new ways of being, creating and naming oneself; and of genuinely believing that we can transform our surroundings.
We have created other collective networks for caring and communal interventions, and we managed to influence the legislature of our state. Since 2022, I've been a part of the federal health system, working in the promotion of health in rural communities in my state, focusing on empathy, non-discrimination and stigma-free health services.
Laura nominated Roy Nelson Cecilio Mendoza for:
I'm 38 years old. I was born in the rural town of Fábrica Concepción in the municipality of San José del Rincón, Estado de México. Two years ago, I found out that I am living with HIV. While I'm proud of having Indigenous roots, it's also a bothersome thing, for Indigenous peoples lack many opportunities. We lack access to a good education and, for example, know nothing about sexually transmitted diseases.
I used to think that such a thing would never happen to me. One day, my husband came to visit. He was to stay all week and I felt really happy about it. Soon, I realized he was sick. He had fluid retention and a cough. He couldn't sleep. I took him to the doctor. When the physician examined his mouth and lungs, she noticed something. I wanted to know what it was, but she said nothing. “What is it, doctor? Tell me.” And she replied: “I need to run some tests first.” I insisted and she told me my husband had herpes. Back then, I was studying sexually transmitted diseases with my daughter, but I honestly couldn't remember a thing about it at that moment.
I wanted to cry. We went to a different hospital with an order for medical tests and we managed to go in fast by making my husband pass as the doctor's cousin. We hadn't eaten anything that day. I didn't want to speak to him, but I agreed to buy something to eat.
When we came back to pick up the tests, I told him, “I really hope it's not what I think.” We took the results back to the first clinic with the physician who ordered the analysis. It was raining. The doctor was waiting for us. She opened the envelope and asked me to take a seat, and her suspicions were confirmed: it was HIV. I felt like the whole world was falling on top of me. The doctor finished me off by saying I also needed to get tested.
It was around 8pm and we had to go to the assigned hospital. Instead, we went home. My mother-in-law helped my husband get up the stairs. She and my sister-in-law questioned us about what was happening; he wouldn't say a word. I started crying and told them, “He has HIV.” My mother-in-law tried to defend him, saying, “He has a right, he's a man.” My sister-in-law talked back to her, saying that the fact that he was a man gave him no right to cheat on his wife. I realized I had an unknown man in front of me.
Roy Nelson Cecilio Mendoza: I am #DoingTheRightThing because…
I came out of the closet in 1997 when I was 17. I gathered my family to “make it official”. After I finally said it, what I remember most are my mother’s words. “I always knew you were different from your siblings, but I want to ask you a favour: I want you to change,” she said. “Think about it. If you can change, then change. I don’t want you to be gay because only two possible fates await them: they either die with AIDS or they end up old and alone.”
With her words in my mind, I thought that if that was going to be my destiny. I had to start preparing myself to face it, and the way I did that was to join groups that fought for the rights of sexually diverse people.
I joined support groups, such as Albergues de México and Iglesia de la Comunidad Metropolitana Reconciliación (an Anglican Catholic Church group that carried out activism for the rights of sexually dissident people and those who lived with HIV). I also appeared on TV shows, like ¿Usted qué opina? during a debate about gay marriage, and also in Fuera de la ley, Primer impacto and La marcha del silencio. Since then, I’ve been fighting for that cause.
Nowadays, I’m part of the Specialized Condesa Clinic’s team, which focuses on people living with HIV. I work for vulnerable groups, providing quality attention with emotional warmth to our clients and creating safe and free-from-violence spaces.
* To protect the identity of the nominator, a pseudonym is used.