Uganda is acclaimed as a champion against HIV and AIDS for decades, having made tremendous strides in containing the epidemic and reversing its spread. However, the current statistics depict an increase of the HIV incidence, with young people in the group of the most affected.
According to 2011 statistics by the ministry of Health, 37 per cent of youths are HIV-positive. HIV prevalence is higher among female youths than their male counterparts.
HIV-related stigma is still prevalent and has been recognized as a key factor impeding disclosure of HIV status, uptake of prevention services and open discussion of the disease. And these are a prerequisite for successful mobilization of communities and individuals for HIV prevention. Lack of disclosure encourages denial and precludes those infected from seeking timely care and support (UNAIDS, 2005).
Young people living with HIV are continuously frustrated due to the stigma and discrimination they face from their family, colleagues at school, potential employers and the general public. In addition, the lack of a family support system during this critical development stage exposes them to risky behavioural practices such as sex work and drug abuse. It is evident that there is limited access to HIV information and services. More so, Stigma and discrimination among young women and girls undermine prevention, care, and treatment efforts and increase the impact of the epidemic on individuals, families, communities and nations.
With support from African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF),Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU), a not for profit youth led organisation is a running an anti –HIV stigma and discrimination project dubbed “Tuli Wamu Nawe” a local name which literally means “We are together with You”. The project is aimed at decreasing HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination among women and girls so as to foster their full engagement in the social and economic activities in their households and at the community level.
Through sustainable and innovative approach, PHAU will undertake educational activities that will help decrease HIV&AIDS stigma and discrimination among women and girls infected or affected by HIV&AIDS; help and mentor 25 women and girls to set up sustainable income generation activities; train peer educators and volunteers to sustain HIV education activities in the project area; and to forge partnership with key stakeholders for a sustained effort at reducing HIV stigma and discrimination. The project will benefit 5 selected communities within Wakiso and Kampala district. It’s expected that 25 women and girls with HIV&AIDS will directly benefit from IGA activities, 10,000 community members will benefit from HIV&AIDS education while 70,000 community members will benefit indirectly from the project.
Just last month before it closed down, a number of delighted youths and women chose to learn about how this great vice of stigma against women of HIV/AIDS can be overcome. A class of over 40 peer educators from various backgrounds grouped to share ideas from a problem based approach with selected women from the community who have previously and are still working as village health team (VHTs) members. The three day training workshop took place at Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Wandegeya.
“…most people assume that someone with AIDS is immoral. They do not realize that there are other ways of transmission. They simply believe that if someone has AIDS, they must have acquired it through immoral behaviour. They associate you with criminals and hence discriminate against you.” (Male PLHIV)
The peer educators will be our “Stigma Champions” and will be actively involved in educational activities aimed at increasing information flow related to different forms and trends of stigma and discrimination in schools and communities. Many learnt how much a pet of choice speaks a lot about an individual and how we ought to respect and love other people’s differences. This showed that we are one and we need each other thus ought to drop the vice of stigma as it hinders especially women and girls from actively participating in social, economic and political development of local communities and Uganda at large.
“Messages should be educative on how to handle PLHIV especially targeting care givers. You might not be killed by the AIDS, but by how you are handled. Religious leaders should also be involved because they have a very big impact on people, and they greatly influence the society.” (Female –VHT)
Involvement of PLHIV has increasingly been sounded as one of the approaches to reduce stigma and discrimination within different settings. It has also been noted that it is important to involve communities at different levels to understand the dimensions of HIV stigma and discrimination and include them in the fight against the vice. Wise men have always said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and through these small baby steps, PHAU will have contributed to the fight against the prevailing HIV/AIDS prevalence and those who have been discriminated before will no longer be victims in the near future.
Follow the project activities on our social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube using the following Hashtags #TuliWamuNawe #AcceptMe #EmbraceMe #WomenandGirlsagainstStigma and take a pledge to the support this cause by showing love, care and support to women and girls living HIV/AIDS.