Category Archives: HIV

Two Ugandas

I know two Ugandas.

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President Museveni signs the anti-Homosexual bill into law

One, the warm and welcoming country where I have spent a year and a half of my life, is a world away from the other – an oppressive, prejudicial regime which today joined the epidemic of homosexual hatred that is sweeping Africa.

My friends and colleagues, men and woman of, among others, the Bakiga, Acholi and Buganda tribes are open to outsiders, curious of new cultures and kind and generous hosts, sometimes to an embarrassing degree.

The men and woman who applauded and cheered as the anti-Homosexual bill was made law today are part of another Uganda, but it is this Uganda, the regressive Uganda, which is now at centre stage.

Since I returned to Scotland from Uganda at the end of 2013, the diverging paths taken by the two governments are clear for all to see.

On 4th February 2014, the Scottish Parliament took the historic step to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland. Today, 24th February 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-Homosexual Bill into law.

The former decision is part of the wider progressive movement which will not compromise on equality. But this movement is being met by its counterpoint – a movement to spread fear, hatred and intolerance to millions. Homosexuality is now illegal in 83 countries across the world, 38 of which are in Africa. It is a movement gathering pace in other countries too, most notably Russia.

For Uganda, the decision to sign up to be the newest member of the anti-equality club, has many facets.

There is a political expedience. President Museveni, in an effort to sure up support for next election in 2016, is tapping into a long-held belief that outside, colonial influences are on the rise. Since Idi Amin expelled the countries Asian population in the 1972, a decision still popular among many today, Ugandan leaders have wanted to appear tough to outside influences, even if it is to the detriment of the country. In the 1970s, it was the economy that suffered. Today it is equality.

Appearing to stand up to President Obama, Archbishop Tutu and 25,000 people from the UK who have written to the Uganda President against this action will make Museveni more popular.

On the ground, the strong stance against so-called foreign influence can be seen in increasing taxes on foreign owned investment (except Chinese oil exploration) and increased spot checks, and sometimes harassment, of foreign workers. It is a good idea to have a copy of work permits and passports on your person at all times as some have been imprisoned for not showing their papers when confronted by police.

There is the bully pulpit. In a very religious country, where most go to church at least once a week, religious leaders have the opportunity to pour poison into the ears of millions. I have heard it myself – “the abomination of homosexuality” – preached as gospel to congregations from all religions and all tribes. This action is being fuelled by money from right-wing evangelical groups from the United States which promise aid in return for a unashamedly pro-abstience, anti-homosexual message.

There is old fashioned prejudice. Homosexuals are to blame for numerous ills – crop failure, drought, but mainly the spread of HIV. This is just one many myths of HIV in Uganda and across East Africa – in fact rates of infection are now higher amongst hetrosexuals – but it all helps to fuel the feral fear which threatens to envelop East Africa.

Amnesty International has said the passage of the anti-Homsexual bill into law is a very grave episode in Uganda’s history.

I agree, and it will continue this way unless the progressive, welcoming voices that I know in Uganda find their voice against the prejudice and hatred.

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Positive action to combat HIV

Saturday 28th September marked the second Community Health Day that Volunteer Uganda held in Kanungu.

In a guest post, here is what volunteers Jake and Amy had to say about the day:

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The sun was the strongest it has been in three weeks. Volunteers steadily entered the breakfast room. Fuelled by half a jungle of bananas we formed an assembly of HIV warriors prepared to occupy Kanungu Town for the afternoon.

Decked out in our matching red VU t-shirts and armed with 200 HIV tests, 400 condoms and armfuls of posters, we headed to Kanungu at 11:30am to start our day.

Since the summer of 2010 when VU first partnered with Mend the Broken Hearts of Uganda and launched VU’s HIV/AIDS outreach programme we have informed, supported and tested thousands of students in local Secondary Schools.

However, today the message goes regional as VU combines forces with Reproductive Health Uganda, Uganda Red Cross and Mend the Broken Hearts on a busy market day in Kanungu Taxi Park. With tents and banners decorating the square, members of the community rolled in, absorbing the days message that together we can get the rate of new HIV infections to Zero.

We had several stands sharing information, from true and false facts about the HIV virus to how to prevent catching the virus, from condom demonstration to positive living. We also had HIV positive councillors who were on hand to offer advice and support.

The highlight of the day by far was when people came and showed us their negative test results. It is not often you see people so happy; one lady was dancing around and gave hugs and high fives to every single one of us. She didn’t speak a word of English but her smiles were infectious.

By 2.30pm we had used all 200 HIV tests. Anyone who was tested received free counselling regardless of their result. 6 radio announcements, 1 truck, 3 tents, 5 information stalls, 1 condom demonstration booth, 10 wooden penis’, 400 condoms, 18 health workers, 200 FREE HIV tests, 10 blood donors, 1 GIANT AIDS Ribbon, 5 Team leaders and 18 AWESOME volunteers later, Volunteer Uganda had interacted with over 500 members if the community over one busy, rewarding, once in a life time afternoon.

It was a really great day which we all enjoyed. When we got back to the VU lodge we had a celebratory BBQ, which proved that, regardless of where they are in the world, if a group of Brits try to have a BBQ, it will pour down! But having had such a great afternoon, nothing could dampen our spirits.

Tackling HIV+ with ABC+

Test 219. For reasons of medical confidentiality I do not know who he or she is, but I do know that the child who had test number 219 as part of Volunteer Uganda’s HIV/AIDS education programme became one of the 350 people who are diagnosed with HIV everyday in Uganda.
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Of over 200 children tested at St Charles Lwanga Secondary School earlier today, Test 219 was the only one to test HIV+.

Trained nurses were present to break the news and counsellors were on hand to offer support and answer any questions. Test 219 now has an appointment at the local hospital on Tuesday and will begin a regiment of antiretroviral medication thereafter.

The news will have come as a shock but there are positives to take – Test 219 now knows their HIV status, a treatment plan is in place and there is less chance that they will pass on HIV in the future.

And that is the reason behind VU’s HIV education programme – to put measures in place to curb Uganda’s HIV epidemic.

1.2 million Ugandans are infected with HIV. To put that in context, as a proportion of population it is like 2.5 million people living with HIV in the UK, when in reality there are just over 70,000.

Working with Ugandan NGO Mend the Broken Hearts, Volunteer Uganda has developed the ABC+ prevention programme and goes into schools to educate to the next generation of Ugandans who need to be equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves from HIV.

The ABC element is in line with the prevention programme designed by the Ugandan government.

A = Abstinence until marriage
B = Be faithful
C = Correct use of condoms

But Volunteer Uganda builds on this and adds D and E.

D = Disclose status/ Dispel myths
E = Empowerment

In the deeply religious Ugandan culture abstinence always comes first, but it is vital to educate people about condoms, especially as there are so many myths surrounding them – hearing “condoms give you cancer”, “I’m ‘too big’ to use a condom” and “you can re-use condoms” is not uncommon.

But the addition of the ‘+’, of the D and E elements is vitally important.

VU runs workshops to tackle the myths surrounding HIV – you can cure HIV by having sex with a virgin is another common one – and provides free testing for pupils who want to know their status.

Volunteers also tell girls that they are the master of their own body and that they should never feel pressurised into having sex, something that can happen in the male dominated Ugandan society.

Because of VU’s HIV prevention programme, Test 219 now has the chance to get the treatment they need, a chance they would not otherwise have had.

With the continuation of the ABC+ strategy, many more will have the chance to take control of their future by having the facts they need to protect themselves from HIV.

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