Michael Gwaba, Zambia
Fighting stigma is crucial to improving access to healthcare
Michael Gwaba is determined to bust the myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV, and says there's no greater feeling than helping save someone's life. Now, as the deadline for achieving the millennium development goals approaches, he plans to be part of the post-2015 dream.
More about this health hero
Michael Gwaba was racked with guilt when he was unable to defend a colleague who lost her under suspicion of having Aids. That was in 1998. In 1999, he lost his fiancée and his son to Aids related illnesses within six months of each other. In 2000, the year world leaders came together and agreed the millennium development goals, he himself tested positive for HIV, by which point he had also unsurprisingly lost his job.
"I was sure I was going to die," says Michael of finding out about his status. Luckily, he managed to find access to free treatment at a government hospital in Chelston, a district in Zambia's capital Lusaka, and went on to form a support group providing emotional and psychological support to others like him. Michael is now one of the six ambassadors for the "Here I am" campaign because the Global Fund has helped him "in so many ways" and, without it, "all that I have worked for will be taken away", he says.
"My life allows me to help so many others' lives," he says. "We use our funding to provide nutritional support to people living with HIV/Aids co-infected with TB, we train adherence counsellors for HIV/Aids in the communities where we work to provide adherence support to those who have challenges with adherence to treatment and medication, and train Dots TB treatment supporters who go out into the community and monitor patients who just start taking TB treatment. We give people the means to go out and reach other people with information about health."
After discovering he was HIV positive, Michael started working in the health sector because he "wanted to make a difference to people's lives by being a community role model of a person who has survived HIV". "When I talk to people, I try to address the myths and misconceptions that discourage them from testing and accessing treatment and use my story to help change their mindset about HIV," says Michael. "I believe I have made a difference in my community and have helped reduce stigma which was the major reason why people feared testing." And he says there is "no greater feeling than knowing you have contributed to saving a person's life".
The 41-year-old is sure the millennium development goals can be saved. "We have made great strides in moving towards achieving the MDGs." he says. "With the MDGs, we set ourselves universal targets to address issues that we felt most affect human beings. At first it was but just a dream and now we are on course to achieving this." But, he warns, we need to start looking beyond 2015. "I am sure we will meet the MDGs but what will we do after this?" he says. "I plan to be part of the post-2015 dream."