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Gloria Akullo, HIV-positive Volunteer Advocates for her Peers
Gloria Akullo, a 24-year-old female volunteer in Uganda was diagnosed with HIV at age three following persistent illness and the death of her parents. Not understanding why she was taking daily pills, Gloria later learned from her caretaker aunt at age 10 that she was HIV positive. More devastating news awaited with the death of her aunt six years later. At age 16, Gloria gave up on living and quit taking her anti-retroviral (ART) pills.
Close to death from the untreated progression of the disease, Gloria’s life was saved by the ART clinic team at Lira Regional Referral Hospital. The team switched her to a new drug combination and supported her to fight off stigma and discrimination from her relatives. She soon began to improve. Based on the bonds she developed with the ART clinic team, at age 17, Gloria chose to be “a hero to the hero less.” She took on an adolescent peer volunteer role to support other children and adolescents living with HIV, encouraging them to not only adhere to their medication regimens, but to accept their HIV status and move forward in life.
The USAID/SUSTAIN project, implemented by URC in Uganda, has worked with the Ministry of Health to establish Adolescent Friendly Health Service (AFHS) centers at supported regional referral hospitals, like the one where Gloria received care. The centers aim to increase access and utilization of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services and accelerate achievement of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal among adolescents in Uganda. The 90-90-90 goal intends by 2020 for all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, for all diagnosed with HIV infection to receive sustained ART, and that all receiving ART achieve viral suppression.
By sharing her own experiences, Gloria gives hope and motivates newly identified HIV-positive adolescents to access services at the ART clinic. By building relationships and trust with adolescents, she actively follows up with clients who are not connected to HIV care and personally ensures they visit the clinic. She reminds and explains the importance of accessing viral load testing services. And she coordinates activities of other adolescent peer volunteers, making sure that each adolescent is linked to the right clinician to receive priority and quality care. Gloria also helps give health education talks on teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and family planning.
Gloria states: “I am proud of my work as an adolescent peer. My hope is to see that children and adolescents born with HIV live long and healthy lives while those who are HIV negative remain negative. It’s very important that every adolescent knows their HIV status and has the information they need to stop the spread of HIV beginning with them.”
The impact of the AFHS centers is striking. From December 2016 to October 2017, a total of 2,524 adolescents were documented as newly attending the adolescent center at Lira.
January 03, 2018