Dr. Gloria Karirirwe is in her element when meeting patients, especially children. Her effortless genuine care and concern for them oozes out naturally.
“Excuse me doctor, may I say hello to you? You helped my wife deliver an HIV free baby,” says one of the clients who receives treatment at the Makerere University Joint AIDS Program (MJAP) supported MMC clinic in Mbarara. The smile on his face is heartening! Dr. Gloria Karirirwe accepts the compliment gracefully before asking about the child fondly. Karirirwe vividly recalls when she first met this client five years ago. She was at the time an intern doctor at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital where she worked in the emergency medicine area. Despite her duty desk then, she had her ambition focused on becoming a pediatrician. Her passion is seeing children healthy and happy.
Years on, Karirirwe who now works as the Care and Treatment Advisor at MJAP wakes up with one thing on her mind – ensuring that health workers in Mbarara district are supported to do their work efficiently. She never thought would be in charge of over 180 HIV Care health workers in Mbarara district.
When she started working with health workers, Karirirwe noticed that people are quick to judge the health system and health workers particularly in public facilities without really understanding the challenges they go through to do their work. Through PEPAR, and the US Centres for Disease control and Prevention, MJAP uses a district-led approach to provide comprehensive HIV services in Mbarara district.
Karirirwe provides technical assistance, supervision and mentorship to health workers in supported facilities to ensure quality and efficient HIV care in the district. And she does it with a passion. “My job has also brought me closer to other health workers in Mbarara district. As a supervisor, I am out in the field four days a week, giving technical support to health workers in lower level health facilities,” Karirirwe says. “I make it a point to write my cell phone contact on the chart in the facilities so that at any one moment, a health worker can access me for support in any HIV related issue,” Karirirwe adds.
Karirirwe believes in recognizing the efforts and work of the people she supervises, most of whom are government health workers on meager salaries. “I am constantly amazed at how health workers across Mbarara serve their patients with dedication.” Karirirwe says. Mbarara district has a staffing level of 45% which is way below the norm of 100%. “Based on what they do within the usually unfavorable conditions, health workers should be commended and not ridiculed for the service they offer.” Karirirwe says.
Acknowledging that it takes participation and recognition of all stakeholders, Karirirwe notes, “My work has taught me a number of things but most especially that the health system is vast. It is comprised of everyone and all have a role to play. I work with a number of stakeholders of health including healthcare workers, politicians, police, teachers, parents, students, patients, other service providers like plumbers, electricians, cleaners, to improve HIV service delivery in Mbarara district. I have learnt to be humble because as a doctor, I am only a spoke in the wheel of health.”
Karirirwe always strives to leave a change whoever small in HIV care for in whatever health facility she visits particularly for children and adolescents. “Working with an excellent clinical team at MMC HC IV, I have seen children born with HIV grow and thrive in school and elsewhere. We were able to strengthen pediatric care and adolescent services in MMC as seen by retention rates of this population in that clinic. I would like to replicate this model in other health facilities in Mbarara and that is why I am supporting the establishment of adolescent corners in supported high volume facilities,” Karirirwe says.
“I am passionate about child and adolescent health. As a mother and doctor, I always feel awful when I see a child suffer. I still want to be a pediatrician” Karirirwe says. Karirirwe has one desire for the health system. “That all Ugandans become involved and take charge of our health system. We need to be the change we want to see in the health care system” Karirirwe says.