17 January 2018

Tanzania: Jake Glaser - a Courageous Campaigner Against HIV

Moshi — It was during a recent visit to Kibosho Designated Hospital for Moshi Rural District, that he would introduce himself to the public.

But that was not before scores of children born with HIV, some old enough to be in secondary school, were introduced to him.

Among them were 15-year-old and 16-year-old students who are happy with their studies at Moshi Technical and Sengerema Secondary School respectively.

The venue of the meeting Kibosho Hospital, run by the Catholic Diocese of Moshi, is no ordinary medical facility.

It is a hospital turned into a centre aimed to improve the lives of people living with HIV/Aids.

By the end of July last year, there were a total of 780 receiving different kinds of care and treatment--63 of them children under 14 years.

The services included counselling and therapy care and treatment, therapy services for children with special needs, prevention of mother to child transmission and the like.

The 34-year old Jake Glaser, from the US, was visiting the medical facility as a special guest. He is a global ambassador in the fight against HIV/Aids.

"Wakubwa Shikamoni. Wadogo Marahaba," (Greetings to all; the young and old), he said to the amusement of all who were inside the function hall.

The young people must have been further amused to hear he was a football fan and did not hide he was a fanatic supporter of Manchester United (Man U). But before he proceeded, with the audience increasingly getting eager to know much about his fight against the pandemic, the visitor said rather nostalgically. "Nina furaha kumeza dawa kila siku," (I'm not bothered to take ARVs each passing day), he said noting that he suffered stigma just like other HIV infected individuals.

It was at this juncture now that everybody around, including the entire hospital staff and people from the neighbouring villages, came to know more about the cheerful visitor from America.

Jake would not waste time during his brief visit to the hospital at Kibosho and later the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) referral hospital in Moshi.

"You're amazing! You might think I'm a hero here but all of you are heroes and heroines. I'm only a veteran but the future belongs to you," he said pointing at the young ones.

Jake has a rich history regarding the fight against the pandemic. He is the child of the late Elizabeth Glaser, once a leading American Aids activist and child advocate and married to actor and director Paul M. Glaser.

His mother contracted HIV very early in the modern Aids pandemic after receiving an HIV-contaminated blood transfusion in 1981 while giving birth.

Like other HIV-infected mothers, Glaser unknowingly passed the virus to her infant daughter, Ariel, through breastfeeding. Ariel was born in 1981 and died in 1988.

The Glasers' son, Jake, born in 1984, contracted HIV from his mother 'in utero' but has lived into adulthood. Elizabeth Glaser died in 1994 from Aids complications. Ariel had developed advance Aids three years before at the time the medical community knew very little about the disease.

Mourning the loss of her daughter and determined to save her surviving child, Jake, along with other HIV-positive children, Glaser cofounded the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) in 1988.

The foundation has been a major force in funding the study of paediatric HIV problems and tackling juvenile Aids, both domestically in the US and globally, including in Tanzania.

With her (Elizabeth) death, it is Jake who took the mantle to speak publicly on behalf of Aids patiently across the globe and that was why he was at the Kibosho medical facility.

Although infected with HIV, he remains relatively healthy due to what doctors say is a mutation of the CCR5 gene (a protein on the surface of the white blood cells) that protects his white blood cells.

Jake held a series of meetings in Arusha, Moshi and Kibosho during his visit to Tanzania, specifically Arusha, where he was invited for some international and regional conferences.

He said he knew how hard it can be to live with HIV, to lose the loved ones. However, he indicated he would not despair in the fight against it.

"I'm strong, I'm proud, I'm courageous, I'm radical, I'm disruptive and most of all, I'm just like all of you. Even if we live in different parts of the world, we are connected.

"Connected as human beings, connected as a generation and connected by our drive to end HIV and Aids in our lifetime," he told the children.

He said his being an Aids ambassador across the globe and openly HIV positive has led to being stigmatised in his California homeland.

"But I knew having HIV was not a death sentence. The medications we have today are incredible if we get the treatment we need," he pointed out.


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