HIV-positive activist to Uganda: Stop impeding AIDS battle

Maxensia Nakibuuka
Maxensia Nakibuuka: Stop scaring people away from HIV tests and treatment

Ugandan legislators are obstructing the country’s fight against AIDS, says HIV-positive human rights activist Maxensia Nakibuuka of Uganda.

People are being scared away from HIV treatment by the parliament’s focus on the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill and a less publicized bill to jail HIV-positive people who have sex without disclosing their infection, Nakibuuka says.

“Our country spearheaded the advocacy on HIV and AIDS in the early 90s, but now the virus is rising because there is reduced education, sensitization and support, especially to those at risk,” she said in a video supporting the work of the Global Fund Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“In parliament, we have two controversial bills — the HIV bill and the anti-gay bill. As we mobilize everybody to come in voluntarily for tests, now we have these legislators who are sitting down and making these bills, scaring people away, including myself.”

Nakibuuka, who founded and runs the Lungujja Community Health Caring Organisation in Kampala, is an HIV-positive mother of four and a widow for the past 16 years, since her husband died of AIDS.

In Uganda, the overall HIV infection rate grew from 6.4 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2012. The estimated rate for men having sex with men is 12.4 to 13.7 percent.

Under current Ugandan law, the punishment for homosexual activity is life imprisonment. Health centers serving that population often work in secret to avoid harassment.

In her video, Nakibuuka says that after her husband’s death in 1999, she lost her job because of stigmatization. The following paragraphs are excerpts from the video:

“I was down, sickly and had lost hope, even to bring up my children.”

Thanks to Kamwokya Christian caring community, with support from the Global Fund and the U.S. Pepfar Fund, she and her family were offered treatment, support, and counseling from religious leaders.

“In 2005, …I had no job, I had no food for my children, I had no income, I was sick.

“It was the Pepfar Fund and the Global Fund, through Kamwokya Christian Caring Community that I started [antiretroviral (ARV) drugs] in 2006.

“I choose to be part of the activism to end HIV and I offered my own premises to have my own clinic that is offering treatment, mobilizes women and men and youth to do care-giving from house to house, follow up to patients who are on treatment, advise on nutrition, and other support services. And for the past six years, my 56 volunteer care-givers have volunteered to do this. …

“If we had ARVs at the time I lost my husband, he wouldn’t have died.

‘I thank God that I had access to treatment and now I am becoming so strong.

“When you are infected by HIV and AIDS, it’s not only drugs that you need to live. You need support, you need care, you need counseling, you need food, you need every kind of support.

‘And unfortunately we are not getting this support. Many lives have been lost.”

Anti-TB drugs are in short supply in Uganda, she said.

“This is the same thing I would love to see happening to the many people in the whole world who need access to treatment, access to ARVs, access to TB drugs, so that we can have healthy people who can plan for their families, who can do work themselves, who are not bed-ridden, so reduce burdens on governments to plan for illnesses, but to plan for people’s development. …”

“Our country spearheaded the advocacy on HIV and AIDS in the early 90s, but now the virus is rising because there is reduced education, sensitization and support, especially to those at risk.

“In parliament, we have two controversial bills — the HIV bill and the anti-gay bill. As we mobilize everybody to come in voluntarily for tests, now we have these legislators who are sitting down and making these bills, scaring people away, including myself.

“Because if an HIV bill is saying that whoever who will be found positive will be put into jail, I will be the first person, because I am positive. Is this how the government should support us?

“No one has ever knelt down to God to get HIV. What about the younger children who get HIV transmitted from their mothers? What about the young girls who are raped? What about the sex workers on the streets? Should we hold them as criminals?

“We need to think again about how people catch HIV and AIDS.

“Therefore I call upon my government first to support its own people. Give us the support we need. Bring the drugs. Put it at every point that is very accessible for everybody to reach. Educate the people that the virus is still with us.

“We are so grateful to the Global Fund that has supported us every time around.
And we still pray to the Global Fund to give us more support, so we can kick AIDS out of the whole world altogether.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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