Today, December 1st 2017 is World Aids Day, a day that is marked all over the world since 1988 and it is the first ever global health day. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
Uganda is one of those countries that was greatly affected by the HIV and AIDS scourge and today joins the rest of the world in marking World AIDS Day, in Mbarara. The consistent message by Government and NGO’s is for everyone to take an an HIV test to know their status and hence the focus has been on prevention.
Uganda’s history with HIV and AIDS is long, the stories and experience of the disease is as diverse as the people telling you about it. I remember as a young girl between 1988 – 1993 I would hear the adults talking about “slim” , I was so terrified and I literally thought slim was a monster that was going to get me when I least expected it. Slim ended up being the name people locally gave to the AIDS disease would you would become really thin as the disease wore you down.
Every country where HIV and AIDS has impacted many lives, there are people who stood out to fight the disease and especially in the early days where the disease was so feared that many were left alone to fend for themselves and eventually die alone, in many cases the stigma would kill you. A lot of education had to be done on how the disease is spread and basically that you could still care for your loved one and share things like cups, combs and hugs without catching the disease. As Biba, and I am sure many others would agree, in Uganda one such person who stood out the early days in the fight against AIDS was popular Musician Philly Bongoley Lutaaya a very popular musician and was the first prominent Ugandan to give a human face to HIV/AIDS., he spent his remaining healthy time writing songs about his battle with AIDS, releasing his last album Alone and Frightened, including his famous song “Alone”, Lutaaya toured churches and schools throughout Uganda to spread a message of prevention and hope. I also remember going with my mama to one of his shows in Mbale and everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of him, his public stance against AIDS showed alot of bravery and determination against stigma. And years later, after Lutaaya’s passing his song Alone was sung in all government schools including the primary school I was at and short plays were written and acted out in school drama clubs to give more awareness about the disease, how you can prevent it and what you could do incase you find out that you have the infection / disease …….i.e living positively with HIV.
Decades later, HIV /AIDS is no longer the very feared and dreaded disease, unlike in the past where the symptoms were very severe and obvious like lips turning pink, skin breaking out into painful blister like rashes, extreme weight loss, and so on; today you can’t tell a person suffering from HIV/ AIDS by just looking at them, the disease has evolved and the medical treatments available for it has also improved a great deal due to lots of research in the area, early diagnosis and widespread information on how to take care of yourself or patient once infected . I am quite sure that several people in the early days of AIDS were wrongly suspected, isolated and stigmatized for having HIV. For example, I have naturally pink lips but one day during those very difficult teenage years, a distant aunt after noticing my pink lips plainly told me I better not be having HIV because if I did no one was going to nurse me. That was quite hurtful and as strong headed as I am usually, boys had never been my portion and I was so conscious and educated about how HIV was transmitted, one of my greatest fears during those days was contracting HIV so I almost literally shunned sharp objects, avoided any bloody situation. On the otherhand, I could also understand my aunt’s “cruelty” because in the community where we lived, we had witnessed the toll AIDS took on the patient, care givers and family, it was not an easy thing taking care of an HIV patient, there were kids that were born with HIV and orphaned children due the AIDs.
At the global level, theme for the World AIDS Campaign is “Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.” , and in Uganda the theme in for this year is “Re-engaging Communities for Effective HIV Prevention”and the slogan is “Accelerating community action towards zero new infections.’
There are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Marking World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
Today, you can also mark this day in your own way by
- Knowing your status – Take an HIV test.
- Living responsibly by ensuring you stay HIV free or by living positively if you find yourself positive. In Uganda we use the ABC ( Abstain, Be faithful to your sexual partner spouse or use condoms…… whichever applies to your situation)
- Spread awareness about the disease, remind somebody that HIV is still a terrible and dreadful disease, there is no cure for it. Some people say that theres treatment and people can now live for over twenty years with the disease and blah blah blah….. I will tell you the same thing a counsellor living with the disease once told us … go get it then come back and tell me how there is now treatment etc
- Light a candle or observe a moment of silence for all those that have passed on due AIDS and related illnesses.
Finally, for more information about HIV and AIDS and how you can get involved , please check out the links below.
- Uganda – Minister’s statement for World Aids Day . In summary
- World Health Organisation – Director General’s statement for World Aids Day 2017
- The Aids Support Organisation (TASO)
- Uganda Aids Commission
- World AIDS Day