Jake Glaser Encourages HIV-Positive Adolescents to Keep Fighting

Jake Glaser shares his experience with HIV-positive adolescents living in Homabay, Kenya.

Kevin Ouma/EGPAF

When Jake Glaser spoke at Kwamo Secondary School in Homabay County, Kenya, just days before 2014 World’s AIDS Day, Jessica Atieno hung on his every word. After all, he might as well have been telling her story. Like Jake, Jessica was born HIV-positive, and though living worlds apart, his story parallels hers.

Jessica said that Jake’s courage gives her “hope that I if take my medication correctly, I will be healthy for many years.” Like Jake, the founder of Modern Advocate, Jessica has dreams.

“Although I love and excel in sciences, I would like to pursue international relations,” she said.

Jake’s mother, Elizabeth Glaser, contracted the virus through a blood transfusion while giving birth to her first child, Ariel. She later passed the virus to Jake. Jake told the gathered adolescents that many people thought that, like his sister, he would not live beyond his tenth birthday.

“But twenty years later, I am still alive and healthy,” said Jake, now 30, as he counseled the adolescents to take their medications.

“Even though the pills make me nauseated, dizzy, or give me bad dreams, I still take the pills,” he told them. Jake said that while the battle is still far from over, “things are getting easier.”

“When I was a child, there were no antiretroviral [medications] for children, only for adults. That is why my sister died. Children had to take drugs designed for adults to stay alive.”

This gap, Jake said, inspired the formation of EGPAF by his mother and her friends — to address the needs of HIV-positive children. EGPAF now supports half of the more than 6,000 HIV-positive children on treatment in Homabay County, which has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in Kenya.

Following the talk, the teenagers had questions for Jake: How do you live positively with HIV? What are the day-to-day challenges of adhering to treatment? How does a student disclose his or her HIV status to classmates, given stigma and fear of rejection?

Jake responded to each question with his own experiences and encouraged his audience to keep a positive attitude: 

“Every time you feel like you are losing hope, remember where I am. Together with millions like us across the world, we are all doing the same thing every single day — fighting to stay alive.”