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Ugandan HIV/AIDS activist wins international award

Uganda’s Winifred Ikilai

The Omololu Falobi award goes to individuals who have shown leadership in research advocacy and inspired others

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Winifred Ikilai from the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU) was declared winner of the 2021 Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV Prevention Research Community Advocacy at the just concluded HIV Research for Prevention Conference which was organised virtually this year.

Ikilai, an HIV, health, research and rights activist from Uganda has spent years coordinating both HIV and sexual and reproductive health services throughout Uganda including the PEPFAR DREAMS programming.

“I feel thrilled, overwhelmed and excited because; first, this award has been brought to Uganda, a country that has been a learning ground with best practices in HIV management including research,” Ikilai told The Independent on Feb.05.

“It feels good to be recognised as a community advocate, it shows that we are appreciated because of the work we do in advocating for the rights of people living with HIV, creating awareness and demand for utilization of biomedical HIV prevention tools.”

Sponsored by the New York-based AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), the Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV Prevention Research Community Advocacy pays tribute to the life and work of this noted HIV prevention advocate, and highlights the essential role of community advocacy in HIV prevention research.

This year’s award was presented to Ikilai by Olayide Akanni of the Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria at the conference plenary on Feb.03. Akanni told the conference that the 2021 Award recognises the courageous and inspiring young activists, advocates and community engagement workers who have ensured that biomedical HIV and related research continued safely despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic took the whole world by surprise and this greatly disrupted and affected the great gains that had already been made in the HIV response. HIV Service delivery including prevention, care and treatment and, most importantly research, was affected. However, communities and networks of the people living with HIV/AIDS stepped up and worked more than ever to bridge the wide gap during the lockdown through the great advocacy.

Despite the unique challenges presented by COVID-19, Ikilai developed creative messages and used multiple mediums and online platforms to engage civil society in Uganda and regionally in important conversations about the dapivirine vaginal ring, HIV vaccines, injectable Prep and the urgent need to maintain a focus on HIV prevention.

Ikilai was feted for helping develop the “Beyond My Pill Campaign” which was launched by the UNAIDS Country Director in Uganda, Dr.Karusa Kiragu, to advocate for effective implementation of test and treat, and was an effective and outspoken advocate for three-month refills and access to food support for people living with HIV in Uganda.

Ikilai remembers her organization’s phone buzzing with “I donot have my pills for the next day, I donot have food to swallow my drugs with” for months during the lockdown.

“We utilized our mobile phones and all other means including social media platforms to advocate for utilities. We walked and drove for miles to deliver the much needed drugs,” she said.

In partnership with AVAC, Ikilai implements an Advocacy project  which is pushing for effective implementation of the test and treat policy for quality treatment and critical coverage of the 95-95-95 targets” in Uganda.

“As a young woman hailing from Sub-Saharan Africa and from Uganda, where every week 570 girls get infected with HIV, I call upon the policy makers to honour their promise of keeping young women and adolescent girls safe from new HIV infections,” Ikilai told the virtual conference attendees shortly after accepting her accolade.

“It is my request that we take forward the “Beyond my pill” campaign as a Global initiative. Beyond my pill is a patient centred advocacy campaign that looks beyond providing ART to people living with HIV.”

“My appeal to the policy makers, Development partners (PEPFAR, UNAIDs) and research institutions is to recognize the integral role played by community advocates in accelerating the 95-95-95 through community referrals, linkages and retention in care,” said Ikilai who is also a 2020 AVAC Fellow hosted by the National Forum of People Living with HIV and AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU).

Going forward, Ikilai says the HIV epidemic with a single prevention option. I advocate for HIV prevention research because HIV prevention technologies will be most effective and accessible when they are developed in collaboration with those who need them most.

“As HIV prevention research continues to evolve, the global community must strengthen its resolve to accelerate the development of a diverse toolkit of interventions that can be accessed by all.”

“I believe HIV prevention tools should be accessible and affordable for all and to those who need them most. As an HIV prevention advocate and public health practitioner, I strive to empower communities to demand and access quality health services.”

Omololu Falobi Award

The Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV Prevention Research Community Advocacy honors individuals who have shown leadership and commitment to HIV prevention research advocacy and inspired others to action.

It is presented biannually and traditionally, the award has come with a plaque, a cash prize and a scholarship to attend the conference where the award is presented to the recipient.




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