Living with HIV has not deterred our dreams

Robinnah Babirye, 20
My name is Robinnah Babirye. I am a student at Kyambogo University, pursuing a degree in Community Based Rehabilitation Studies. My mother told me I was born with HIV when I was a nine-year-old Primary Five pupil. She said doctors had aised her to tell me because it could help me to grow up knowing my status, and how to take care of myself.

She used to give me septrin tablets to take every day. It helped me to avoid catching cough, flu and malaria. But when she first told me about my status, I was so angry. I hated my life and I thought I was going to die soon. Despite the assurances I got from my mother, I was not convinced I could live long enough. We decided to keep my status secret.

When I was in Primary Seven in 2006, children with whom I shared the dormitory saw the pills I used to keep in my suitcase and asked why I had them. I said it was to treat cough and flu. Because we were all young, they believed me. When I joined secondary school in 2007, I was asked the same question and I gave them my usual answer.

Instead, they started calling me “sickly”. In 2009, I started developing fever, cough and headache among other illness. I needed someone to help me in the dormitory, especially when it came to taking medication. My mother had died in 2008.

That was when I revealed my status to an older close friend. I asked her not to tell anyone. She always reminded me to take my medication. I went to meet the doctor because my body was becoming weak.

My CD4 count had dropped. He decided to put me on antiretroviral drugs. Coping with the treatment was not easy. With more people dying of Aids, I thought my turn was near. I hated the drugs and I could swallow them once in a while.

After getting counselling from Pinna Uganda, an organisation that works with HIV positive youth, I started taking my medication again. In 2011, I went to another school for my aanced level studies.

In the same year, the doctor again examined me and found my CD4 had dropped. He blamed it on my poor adherence to the ARVs and switched me to a second drug option.

The doctor said this was my last treatment option. I was instructed to swallow four pills in the morning and three in the evening. From that time, I have strictly followed the doctors’s orders. I have also come to accept my status and I no longer play around with my medication. At high school, I kept my drugs with the school nurse. Sometimes, students would ask why I always went to meet the nurse. I would find excuses to tell them.

Unfortunately, one day, they found a paper that had my test results and treatment details. I had kept it in between my books. From that moment, they knew I was HIV positive and nicknamed me walking dead. The nickname made me angry but after a while, I decided I could not change anything about it. I told my teachers and fellow students about my status. I also encouraged them to protect themselves and go for an HIV test. Since then, I have been an activist on HIV.

About relationships
Many times, when boys ask me to be their girlfriends, I aise them to concentrate on their studies. I also tell them about my status. To those who insist, I show them my pills. There was a boy insisted on having a relationship with me and we went as far testing for HIV together because he did not believe my story. After seeing the results, he got convinced and since then, we have been friends.

I want to be an international aocate on issues such as HIV, wars and people with disabilities. I also want to have a happy family. I hope to have children in the future who are born free from HIV.

Aice to teenagers
I aise students to love and protect their lives irrespective of the challenges they are going through. Life is very precious. Never mess up with it. Let your studies be the first priority.

My parents died before telling me I was HIV positive

My name is Sadam Kyeyune. I am 23. I dropped out of school in Senior Three because of financial reasons. After quitting school, I started to work at building sites. My parents died before telling us about my status. I only knew about my status when I went to test in 2007.

I had listened to a health talk show on radio in which a doctor was explaining the common symptoms to lookout for. They were similar to the symptoms that my brother and I had.

The tests turned out to be positive for both of us. We were scared since we had no one to confide in. At the time, I was 16 and my brother was 12. Our father had died two years earlier and our mother had died before I was 10.

We were put on septrin pills. Since we had no one to guide us, we failed to adhere to the treatment.
After two years, the doctors realised we were getting weaker and decided to enroll us on ARVs in 2009. That same year, we were introduced to Pinna Uganda, an organisation that looks after children living with HIV. We were counselled, given medication and fed. Since then, we have been taking our medication without fail.

Currently, I grow vegetables that I sell and get money to look after myself and my brother. My brother is also training as a builder at a construction site.

Disclosing status
After testing positive, we started to ask people we knew where we could have possibly got HIV from. We were told we could have been infected at birth through our mother. Many of our neighbours, however, suspected we were positive because of the constant illnesses that we suffered.

When we joined Pinna Uganda, the counsellors and other children who we met there, encouraged us to disclose our status to the public. They said this would reduce the spread of HIV. Since then, I have become an active aocate on HIV. It is now seven years ever since we got know about our status. I have never been bullied, nicknamed or abused because of my status. All my friends appreciate my courage of coming out openly about my status.

About relationships
I have a girlfriend. We have been in a relationship for two years. She is HIV negative. I told her about my status. I am always eager to protect her and other people who are still HIV negative. We always have protected sex.

Life plans
I want to be a musician in future. I have composed several songs. We have shot several music videos as children of Pinna Uganda. Our music plays on radio and television stations. Besides, I want to be an actor. I also want to get married and have children.

Aice to teenagers
I encourage all teenagers living with HIV not to lose hope. They should stick to their medicine. They should respect those people who are HIV negative and not infect them.

HIV among young people
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than two million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years are living with HIV globally. However, many do not receive the care and support that they need to stay in good health and prevent transmission. Many more adolescents are also at risk of infection.

WHO says the failure to support effective and acceptable HIV services for adolescents has resulted in a 50 per cent increase in Aids-related deaths in this age group compared with a 30 per cent decline seen in the general population between 2005 and 2012.

Gottfried Hirnschall, the director of WHO’s HIVAids department, says adolescents face difficult and often confusing emotional and social pressures as they grow from children into adults. “Adolescents need health services and support, tailored to their needs. They are less likely than adults to be tested for HIV and often need more support than adults to help them maintain care and to stick to treatment,” says Hirnschall.

HIV numbers in summary

7.3 % -Percentage of HIV PREVALENCE IN UGANDA

130,000- Number of people who become newly infected in Uganda every year

2.1 m- Adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 who were living with HIV globally by 2012.

35.3 M – Estimated number of people who were living with HIV globally by 2012

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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