Ogechika Karl Alozie, MD, MPH, FACP, AAHIVS
El Paso, Texas
Before launching his career in HIV care, Oge Alozie attended medical school at the University of Benin Medical School in Benin, Nigeria. His education in the developing world was public health-focused and centered on issues like water, malaria, and tuberculosis. After medical school, Oge moved to Minnesota to complete his Internal Medicine residency at Hennepin County Medical Center before doing an Infectious Diseases fellowship and earning his MPH at the University of Minnesota, where he also served as head of student health services and volunteered for a few organizations that handled HIV care in minorities.
It was about ten years ago when he moved to El Paso Texas. Since then, Dr. Alozie has worked in every hospital in the city and has created not one, but two HIV clinics from the ground up. First, working as a new assistant professor with an academic health center, Dr. Alozie led a team in creating the university’s first dedicated HIV clinic. In 2014, Oge left the university to pursue new ventures. He founded a non-profit organization focused on Ryan White care and providing a shared clinic case management navigation space for HIV clients; ensuring these patients receive the best care possible. Oge recalls, “Truthfully, I really had no idea how Ryan White funding mechanisms worked, what 340B was, or how to grow a team and clinic. However, with lots of determination, we have built one of the best, we believe, HIV groups in the state of Texas and I’m immensely proud of that.”
When asked what motivated him to pursue specializing in HIV care, Oge recalls, “As I began my career, initially my desire was to become a cardiologist. As I was pursuing my MPH in cardiology, one summer my mom called me and told me her sister, my aunt, had been diagnosed with HIV in Nigeria. I’m not sure what it was, if was the process of engaging with my mom and aunt learning about resources for HIV care in Nigeria and the host of many other things to help her with her journey, but something ignited a fire in me and HIV became my new focus; HIV, infectious diseases and a focus on public health as a whole.”
Today, Oge’s non-profit organization, Southwest Viral Med (SWVM), is responsible for the care of about 1,300 persons living with HIV and other related viral diseases, like hepatitis C. SWVM uses technology and outreach to engage deeply with the community and drive some of the best HIV outcomes in the state of Texas. Dr. Alozie is joined on his team by a NP, clinical PharmD, outreach navigators, as well as core clinical staff such as their Director of Operations, HIV Technology Specialist, and two certified medical assistants (CMAs). At SWVM, the most common age demographic is between 25 and 44; this has changed over the last few years away from the 45+ demographic. Of their total patients, 88% are male, 12% are female; and has remained consistent over the years. Over 90% of their patient population is Hispanic/Latinx.
At SWVM, Dr. Alozie is driven by public health and epidemiology and is constantly analyzing data to improve systems of care. They leverage technology to engage patients and ensure they have access to care, particularly with newer populations of young ‘digital natives.’ Whether it’s the patient portal, text outreach campaigns or telemedicine; providing multiple channels of access to care is what they consistently analyze. They gauge effectiveness, make revisions, and remain flexible to try something different.
“My approach to patient care has always been the same;” says Dr. Alozie, “to be compassionate but honest with my patients. They come to me and look to me to tell them the truth yet still give them hope. I know they say hope is not a strategy, but when it comes to patient care in the disease state of HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis C, that initial hope is what people latch onto to give them strength to go on and fight that battle. I’ve always been that kind of physician and my patients know I will support them. I’ll be that to them, but also tell them when I think they’re not being honest with me, but more importantly themselves, and they need to make changes. There’s a saying I’m sort of famous for, I’m not even sure where I got it, I probably stole it from someone. But during one of the initial visits I tell my patients; ‘this is like a date. If the date goes well, I hope you come back and we’ll continue working through this relationship. If it doesn’t and I’m not the right one for you, let’s find a provider with whom you’ll have a thriving, successful, happy relationship.’ I let my patients know we are in this together, but if they are doing something to jeopardize their ability to thrive, I’m going to correct them and that’s really my approach to patient care.”
Oge cites talking to clients and their families, especially during the initial visit, as the most rewarding part of his job as an HIV Specialist. He takes pride in having the ability to bring a sense of calm to these patients by explaining HIV is not a death sentence. Medicine has evolved and HIV is something we can work together to manage, work through, and not only survive, but thrive. Says Oge, “The thoughts that bring me the most joy are those patients I’ve seen in the hospital. They’d been put on hospice care, other physicians told them they were going to die so their family had given up. However, working with them, finding the right regimen, combining medicine with our care management and navigator teams, it’s amazing that six months later they’ve come back into clinic unrecognizable; totally new people with a new lease on life.” Dr. Alozie’s biggest challenge or obstacle is having patience to deal with the bureaucracy around getting patients the care they need and deserve. “I’ve learned to understand that systems are in place sometimes for a reason and sometimes they are there just to exist. We must stay dedicated to continue to look for ways to improve the systems and educate, educate, educate!”
The subject of education is one about which Dr. Alozie is passionate. “When I look at HIV and understand that it’s a disease of the U.S. South, it makes me sad that in most academic health centers across the South young Black and Hispanic students are not being educated on HIV in an engaging, enlightening and exciting manner.” Dr. Alozie hopes to continue to work with organizations like AAHIVM, AETCs, academic health centers and pharmaceutical industry supporters to ensure we are equipping the future of healthcare with the tools and mindset necessary to work in healthcare today and in the future.
Looking to the future, Oge envisions a greater focus on prevention and long-acting suppression. He considers today’s advances around U = U, rapid start and the new round of injectable medications to be just the tip of the iceberg. Upcoming therapeutics have the ability to reduce patients’ viral loads consistently and durably, but also to reduce the risk of new persons contracting HIV. From a workforce or person-power standpoint, Oge thinks the future of HIV is in the hands of clinical pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. This is not because he believes physicians shouldn’t manage HIV, but Oge says, “the financials of healthcare and a dwindling workforce of physicians in HIV and infectious diseases make it imperative that we focus on the young healthcare team members who are out there.”
Outside of work, sports, especially basketball and soccer, and his family have always been Oge’s drivers. “Showing my kids that hard work and the ability to adapt and overcome are important aspects of life.” Oge prioritizes giving back to his community. For the last two years he has volunteered and worked with friends to set up public health and eye exam fairs in areas within Nigeria. “Giving back to my community has always been important from when I was a student to now being a respected professional here in El Paso and other communities. I believe giving back via community service is critically important to growth and I’ve focused mine around my passion for education. I am dedicated to educating the next generation, being available for them to ask questions and learn from my speeches and presentations.
Asked why he joined AAHIVM as an Academy Member, Oge says, “As I was finishing my HIV fellowship at University of Minnesota, I came across AAHIVM. It was organization that conducted continuing education and outreach, which is what piqued my interest, and I became drawn to it. Not only to have a community of HIV care providers, but to increase my skillset, make connections and really develop in my HIV career. Since I’ve been in Texas and aligned with the Academy, I’ve had opportunities to attend sessions and been able to teach sessions. I truly believe that the Academy continues to push HIV-focused agendas for the future of HIV in America.”
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