Global Voices: An Interview with Dr. Sekela Mwakyusa, M.D.
Adolescent Care & Treatment; Adult HIV Care and Treatment; General; Maternal and Child Health; Pediatric HIV Diagnosis, Care and Treatment; Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission
2018 marks 30 years since Elizabeth Glaser, Susie Zeegen, and Susan DeLaurentis formed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) around a kitchen table. The three friends were fighting for the life of Elizabeth’s HIV-positive son, Jake, following the death of her 7-year-old daughter, Ariel, who passed away from AIDS-related illnesses. But Elizabeth’s vision extended beyond her own household. “Every child deserves a lifetime,” Elizabeth often said.
From that kitchen table, EGPAF has grown to become the global leader in the fight to end AIDS in children. To commemorate EGPAF’s 30 years of impact, we will be sharing a series called Global Voices, featuring some of the individuals who have been touched by Elizabeth Glaser and EGPAF.
Sekela Mwakyusa, M.D., is the current executive director of the Ariel Glaser Pediatric Healthcare Initiative (AGPAHI), which was established in 2011 as an independent Tanzanian affiliate to EGPAF—with shared missions and logos. Since its launch, AGPAHI has reached more than 500,000 women with HIV services.
Dr. Mwakyusa remembers how hard Tanzania was hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic—including close to home. Her father lost nine siblings to AIDS-related causes during the 1990s and early 2000s. “At that time, people didn’t know what to do with it,” she says.
People were getting sick and you were told to just live in faith.
During medical school, Dr. Mwakyusa decided to go into pediatrics. “I was driven by the fact that babies were getting sick and dying. We were not able to do anything except palliative care. It was a very painful state,” she says.
In 2003, EGPAF began working with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health to expand effective HIV prevention and treatment programs with funding through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This assistance played a vital role in dramatically reducing the number of children born with HIV or dying of AIDS-related causes. Dr. Sekela work as a doctor and public health administrator in several capacities during that time.
“I’ve seen the changes. I’ve participated in and contributed to the state where we are now,” says Dr. Mwakyusa.
The thing that drives me most is that fact that we can do something; people don’t have to die. “The affiliation of AGPAHI with [EGPAF] is very beneficial,” she continues, citing the technical support that EGPAF continues to provide. “All in all, it’s a great advantage for us. We are learning a lot, and it has built our organization; it has built our reputation. Right now we are seen as one of the major organizations supporting HIV care and treatment services in the country.
“Right now, the fact that we are seeing another face of HIV doesn’t mean that the war is done,” says Dr. Mwakyusa. “We still have communities who need the services, still need the stigma to be addressed … but I think that if each one of us plays their part in this fight, I think we will get there.”