Working Close to Home to Prevent HIV

Dr. Kawango Agot, Kenya
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Dr. Kawango Agot, Kenya (Image courtesy of Dr. Agot)

Kenyan research scientist Kawango Agot founded an NGO, Impact Research and Development Organization in 1999 at the same time she was working towards a PhD in Medical Geography and an MPH in epidemiology from the University of Washington, both of which she received in 2001. IRDO, in Kisumu, Kenya, runs HIV prevention programs as well as clinical and behavioral research studies.

When I was growing up in rural Kenya, there were no effective treatment or prevention services in my community. Sometimes you’d lose so many people at the same time that as a family you have to agree, 3 of you will go to this burial, and 2 of you will go to the other one so that the family is represented.

During my studies, I wanted coursework that would be beneficial back home, and especially in HIV/AIDS. Medical geography helps me understand the reasons why diseases are geographically spread the way they are, and what the predisposing factors are.

So now I’m approaching HIV from the angles of prevention, care, and treatment. The good news is that when we started in some of the places where we’ve worked, the prevalence was almost 40%. And now, the highest prevalence in the areas where we are working is 18%. It’s taken a while, but that’s something that we are proud of.

Raising money is always a challenge. We are grateful to PEPFAR. But getting the county governments to actually put their money where their mouth is has been really a challenge.

My work is extremely satisfying. I had a choice to go back to the US. But I felt that my impact would not have been as much as what I’m seeing now. We’ve circumcised over 650,000 men, we have tested almost 3 million people, and there are many other achievements that I feel pretty proud of. You guys don’t need me there. I can do more right here.

Doing what I do takes patience. You can’t get results immediately. People look at it like, what can I possibly do that will make a difference? But little bits become building stones towards something that’s great. Together, we make a difference.

 

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