Barbara Kemigisa, who contracted HIV at a young age, isn’t shy talking about her tragic life.
Addressing a gathering at the National Theatre recently, Kemigisa said she was raped repeatedly by her uncles, and later developed an addiction to sex. She slept around with men of different ages. While at university, she got pregnant and decided to test for HIV. She was positive.
She started treatment and gave birth to an HIV-negative baby girl. Cash strapped, she said she had no option but to breastfeed her baby.
“When I took her to Bailor Uganda for testing, she was positive also,” a teary Kemigisa said.
Kemigisa said she was heartbroken by the news and her dreams were shattered. She knew she was responsible for her five-year-old daughter’s sickness, but could not change the past. Today she talks boldly about the future, the immediate part of which is secured by antiretroviral drugs she and her daughter take religiously.
“My daughter sometimes reminds me to take mine,” said Kemigisa, 26. “Yes you can live with Aids, but it is not easy to take ARVs every day.”
Kemigisa is a portrait of hundreds of youths who have contracted HIVAids, either out of ignorance or reckless living. But she is also a woman on a mission. She wants to spread the gospel so that no more youths catch HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
“It must stop with me,” she said.
In a campaign dubbed Zip-Up, launched officially last week, Kemigisa partnered with comedian Kenneth Kimuli (Pablo) to reach out to young people through the language they understand most: the arts. According to Pablo, they will perform the usual humorous skits with a blend of HIVAids messages on how the young can protect themselves from catching the disease.
“Through these skits, we will tell them how precious their lives are. They will learn how hard it is to live with that disease,” said Pablo.
Dr Charles Mulekwa, a renowned playwright, said it was through arts and songs that HIVAids came to be understood in Uganda in the early 1990s.
Songs such as Philly Bongoley Lutaaya’s Alone And Frightened had a very clear message.
“Arts help achieve awareness and cause debate,” Mulekwa said.
Through Zip-up, musicians and comedians led by Pablo, and some teens will visit different schools to preach the HIVAids gospel. Teens who are living with the disease will give testimonies. Already, the campaign has reached schools such as King’s College Budo, Seroma, Seeta, and Kololo High School.
They hope to reach 100 schools by the end of next year. On October 31, Pablo will stage a charity show at Kampala Serena and the proceeds will go to this campaign.
“I would rather get HIVAids than get pregnant,” some youths say. The logic here is that it takes long for HIV to manifest yet with a pregnancy, the stomach balloons quickly.
The youths don’t like this. Females are five times likely to catch HIVAids than males. Young women carry the highest burden, according to the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC).
The 2011 Uganda Aids Indicator Survey shows that 5.1 per cent of females aged between 18 and 19 live with the virus while only 1.5 per cent of males of the same age have the virus. For those aged between 23 and 24 years, there is a Seven per cent HIV prevalence among females and only 3.6 per cent among males of the same age.
Dr Christine Ondoa, the director general UAC, said there was a danger of the number of infected youths to increase if the status quo remains.
“Aids is far from over,” Ondoa said.
Although there is a decline in infections from an estimated 160,000 in 2011 to 140,000 in 2013, according to UAC, if more efforts are not stepped up, prevalence rates could shoot up again. New infections will grow to an annual rate of 329,676 in 2025 resulting in a cumulative 2,800,000 new infections by 2025, Ondoa said in a statement.
At 7.3 per cent, Uganda has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in East Africa. Some 500,000 Ugandans die annually from HIVAids.
Source : The Observer