KAMPALA – The Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) in partnership with several other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have on Wednesday evening held a community light-up event in the fight against HIV stigma and discrimination.
The event under the theme, “Ending HIV Stigma, Promoting Resilient Community” was held at Ndere Cultural Centre in Ntinda.
UGANET Executive Director Ms. Dorah Kiconco Musinguzi revealed that the event was intended at sparking the fire of advocacy again in line with Philly Lutaaya Day which is celebrated on the 18th of November.
“We wanted to take the two weeks before World AIDS Day to really see what did Philly leave behind. Philly left behind a great story of courage, fighting HIV in the most difficult circumstances, where there was no medicine when there was fear, confusion, a terrible panic-like where you saw Covid-19 at its height and he came up and gave HIV a face and since then, there has been changing conversations,” she said.
“People came up and learned from him and fought for medicine and we got it. So thirty-two years later, when we meet here, we are saying, what do we learn from Philly Lutaaya? How did he use the story of dignity to challenge stigma and discrimination?”
Ms. Kiconco, a lawyer who works on issues of human rights violation said that when you’re fighting violations, you are fighting against HIV indignity, “when people shame you, abuse you when people want to minimize you because of your HIV status.”
“So today, we called people from far and wide to come and just talk about what Philly Lutaaya reminds them. So we hope that by the end of this event, these one hundred people will be out strongly as one hundred Philly Lutaayas, challenging stigma and discrimination ahead of World AIDS Day, we are keeping the conversations open and live,” she said.
Ms. Kiconco wondered why the government through the ministry of gender, would agree to sign a policy excluding people living with HIV from being taken by export labour companies to also work abroad.
“They can’t allow people with HIV and it is a policy we have signed on as a government to allow people abroad to mention that if you have HIV, you can’t go for greener pastures. That’s still a policy which is wrong,” she said, adding that, “If they want labour they have to get it on our terms.”
She also decried HIV criminalization, revealing that Luzira and other prisons have people who are HIV positive and their crime is that they had HIV and had sexual relations.
“We are not so sure where they meant it, whether they transmitted it to anyone. I’ve worked on nine cases where there was no transmission but people suffered in prison. So HIV criminalization is still a stigma issue,” said Ms. Kiconco.
Major Rubaramira Rubanga, an AIDS activist has called on public health to sensitize people right from their homesteads, saying that a family is a support system.
“I think my living properly without even being affected by drugs is because I agreed with my family. I cannot even forget taking my drugs. My children will tell me, daddy, have you taken the drugs. Some would even chase me if I had forgotten and I had moved somewhere,” he said.
“So this starts with the family.”
Major Rubaramira revealed that the problem people have intellectualized the disease with everybody trying to hide.
“People are even hiding from their own families which are supposed to be a support system.”
According to him, the public can prevent 80% of the diseases that they take to hospitals but they are not preventable because people in the communities do not hear about HIV.
“Ownership of this disease has failed. The people who have the disease, the young people who may get infected do not own it because we have not taken it to where it should be and that is the households.”
One of the youths living with HIV, Mr. Ssenoga Hassan who prefers being referred to as “Mr. AIDS” said that he is grateful that he managed to come out to confess that he is HIV positive.
He also agreed that in Uganda, stigma is still a very big challenge.
However, he challenged that the battle to break the stigma among people especially the youth starts with them (HIV positives).
“We are the ones supposed to come out to speak about what we are going through. The people who are stigmatizing us do not know what we are facing. So it’s our responsibility again to come out to talk to the people who bring the stigma,” he said.
Mr. Ssenoga encouraged the councillors to come out and teach them how to break up the stigma by confessing, gathering together and associating with people who are negative.
“Remember every person is positive not until you have tested negative,” he warned.
He narrated how he was denied food in Nabweru restaurant after realizing that he is the person who calls himself Mr. AIDS.
“So they told me there was no food and when I sent somebody with a dish, they gave her food.”