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AIDS pageant in Uganda seeks to stem stigma, discrimination

When she was younger, Tryphena Natukunda's mother discouraged her from swallowing her antiretroviral medicines among strangers or even distant relatives.

Because the girl had AIDS, which can fuel stigmatization and invite harsh judgment, the mother wanted her daughter's condition kept a secret within the family.

Yet as she grew older, Natukunda, now 18 and the latest winner of a beauty pageant for young Ugandan women with the virus that causes AIDS, yearned to live openly, even if it meant people saying harsh things behind her back.

Natukunda was crowned Miss Young Positive during a boisterous affair at a Kampala hotel early Sunday, besting nine other contestants in an annual competition organized to enlighten people about the dangers of discriminating against people with AIDS. A similar competition is held for young men.

"If my mother was not with me, I couldn't go any place where they didn't know my status," Natukunda recalled late Saturday, as she had her makeup done backstage before the show. "What we used to fear was people seeing me taking my drugs and then asking, 'What are those drugs for?'"

It's a question that haunts other AIDS patients in this East African country, where experts warn that discrimination remains an obstacle to preventing new HIV infections. Many Ugandans still regard an HIV diagnosis as proof of irresponsible sexual behavior and a source of shame.

Mothers suffering from AIDS have been known to breastfeed their infants in public places, exposing their children to HIV because they don't want a bottle and formula to make others suspect they are infected.

Organizers of the HIV-themed beauty pageant, which launched in 2014, say one way of curbing the irrational fear of AIDS that fuels discrimination is for more people living with HIV to open up about their status rather than conceal it.

"In Uganda, many young people die not because they do not take their medicine. It's just because the stigma and discrimination around them hindered them from taking their medicine well," Lovinka Nakayiza of the Uganda Network of Young people Living with HIV & AIDS, the civic group which put on the pageant, said. "Our family members discriminate against us because they think HIV moves on our faces when we touch their cups, when we talk to them."

Whoever wins the pageant is expected to become a roving ambassador in the fight against AIDS, Nakayiza said. Instead of physical attributes or special talents, contestants were judged on their knowledge of HIV, including basic questions such as the term for which HIV serves as an acronym.

The Ugandan government has been campaigning to persuade more people to get tested for HIV, since experts believe those who know their status are more likely to abstain from risky sexual behavior. The HIV prevalence rate in Uganda stood at 7.1 percent in 2015 among adults aged 15 to 49, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

In 2005 the prevalence rate was 6.4 percent, down from the double-digit figures in the 1990s that inspired behavior-change campaigns for which Uganda was known globally. However, tens of thousands still get infected with the virus each year.

Nakayiza said the beauty pageant was inspired by a desire to do something new in the AIDS prevention movement, which she said was dominated by "too many workshops" that can bore instead of motivate young people.

Robinah Babirye, a 23-year-old who won the Miss Young Positive title in 2015, has spent the last year speaking at schools and other public places where young people living with HIV need encouragement.

Babirye, who went through "rough" times of her own when long-time friends shunned her, said connecting with others in the same situation has been good for her and for them.

"Most of the young people that I have met have seen me as an inspiration, have seen me as an example, and that I am proud of," she said. "Through talking and relating with young people living with HIV, I have empowered young people and made them positive about life."

Source: Associated Press



Alcohol Bill Gets Nod From Health Ministry, Civil Society

Government has welcomed the proposed Alcohol Drinks Control Bill 2016, saying it will help reduce excessive alcohol consumption in the country.  The Bill, a private members' initiative, spearheaded by the Mukono Municipality MP, Ms Betty Nambooze, seeks to consolidate all alcoholic-related laws and sets tougher sanctions on alcohol consumption.

The principal medical officer of mental health and control of substance abuse at the Health ministry, Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, said the Bill, if passed into law, will reduce government expenditure on alcohol-related diseases.

"We are soon tabling an Alcohol Control Policy. This policy directs on the consumption of alcohol and how government could control it. The proposed Bill is, therefore, timely," Dr Ndyanabangi said. She was speaking during the Alcohol Drinks Control Bill consultative workshop organised by the Health ministry in Kampala last Friday.

Commenting about the Bill, the Health ministry permanent secretary, Dr Asuman Lukwago, told Daily Monitor on phone yesterday that the Bill is a good initiative. "It's a good Bill but we will look at it and see what is required and what must be done," he said.

The Bill's contents

The draft Bill criminalises the sale or consumption of alcohol before 5pm or after 1am and violators risk a Shs2 million fine or one-year jail term or both.

It also provides that a retailer cannot sue to recover any debt extended to a consumer of alcohol unless the alcohol is served to a resident hotel, inn or lodge guest. This means that bar owners would incur losses unless patrons pay up before leaving the service point.

The Bill also imposes a prison sentence of 10 years or a fine of Shs20 million or both for a person found guilty of selling alcohol to persons below the age of 18 or even allowing an underage person to access premises where alcohol is stored, sold or consumed. Dr Ndyanabangi noted that alcohol prices should be hiked to limit people from buying it.

"Instead of investing in things that would improve their health, people are heavily spending on alcohol which is a killer. We need to liaise with MPs to ensure the Bill is passed into law," she said.


The chairperson Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance, Mr David Kalema, urged civil society organisations to join the struggle against excessive alcohol consumption.

National HIV/AIDS Household Survey Begins

The Ministry of Health launched the Uganda Population based HIV Impact Assessment Survey (UPHIA) at the Ministry headquarters recently. The nationwide household survey will help in estimating HIV incidence, prevalence and viral load suppression among adults and children and provide accurate national and regional level data on the magnitude and dynamics of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country and will be used in planning for the response to the epidemic.

The information collected through UPHIA will benefit both the country and its citizens. This data will be utilized by stakeholders in the HIV/AIDS response to mobilize resources to support the critical interventions for the respone.

Minister of Health, Hon. Jane Ruth Aceng underscored the Government's efforts in implementing a robust HIV and AIDS response following a combination of HIV prevention approach.

The focus of this approach has been the implementation of high impact structural, behavioral and biomedical interventions.

"As a result of this approach, the country has observed significant achievements such as declines in new HIV infections, decline in AIDS related deaths as well as significant increase in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS who receive care and treatment" she noted.

Hon. Aceng urged that the success of this household survey largely depends on the participation of the selected households countrywide and she encouraged everyone to support the survey teams in carrying out this exercise.

At household level, participants will have the opportunity to know their HIV status, syphilis and Hepatitis B. "Those that are infected with syphilis will be treated in their homes while those infected with HIv or Hepatitis B will be referred for appropriate care. A counsellor will be part of the survey teams equipped with health information that will be provided to the respondents in the households" Hon. Aceng informed the gathering.

The U.S Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac noted that this survey will be paramount for both Ugandan and International health officials in making a comprehensive strategy in the fight against HIV in the country.

Ambassador Malac pledged her country's support in the fight against HIV adding that significant gains have been realized and the US Government will continue supporting the implementation of interventions to eliminate the HIV/AIDS scourge. "In Uganda, the United States has invested nearly $3 billion in this battle, which has transformed the lives of millions. And that is why we support the timely launch of this assessment survey" she said.

The Director of UPHIA, Dr. Alex Opio said the public has been mobilized to ensure good participation. He also noted that this is the first time children will be includede in the assessment exercise. "The survey is slated to last for six months and our plan is to spend these months in the field collecting data. Data analysis will commence and new HIV statistics will be available two months later" he explained.

About 300 field workers have been trained and equipped with knowlwdge and skills to collect data using electronic tablets and dsipatched into the field to begin the data collection process.

This survey is being implemented with support from Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ICAP and Columbia University. Other partners include; Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC), World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS.

Church Of Latter day Saints Donates Wheelchairs To Ministry Of Health

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter ­day Saints based in United States of America donated 270 Wheelchairs worth 2 billion shillings to Ministry of Health. The Donation comes at a time when Ministry of Health is in the final planning stage for a massive assessment of the magnitude of people faced with physical disability resulting from accidents and the recent internal conflict in Northern Uganda.

Records at the Ministry of Health headquarters show that Uganda has 1.5 million people with disabilities and majority of whom have physical disability.

Zalwango Salama, a resident of Bwaise and Ronald Wisdom who stays in Kanyanya village, Kampala suburbs have been disabled since childhood. They both have been having of challenge of crawling due to lack of funds to secure for themselves a wheelchair. Now, they are among the lucky Ugandans that have received assistance through the humanitarian missionaries for the church in Uganda.

Ronald Wisdom says that the new Wheelchair will assist him to reach to his relatives, go for further studies and also be able to get some merchandise which he can sell and better himself.

Tonny Achol a Masters degree student at Makerere urged the beneficiaries of the wheelchairs not to sell them but rather use them to be of help to themselves and the entire community they live in. He also requested people with disability impairment  to not only be recipients but to endeavor and become job creators.

The Wheel Chair Coordinator in Uganda, Rose Bongole (Mrs) says “for a long period of time, Uganda has been battling with poor assessment and screening people with disabilities before accessing reliable, quality wheelchairs and the WHO recommended supportive appliances. This resulted into getting second hand donations, but this poor habit  has  now been stopped”.

The Welfare Service Missionaries representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter­day Saints based  in  USA, Ralph Howard  pledged  continued support to Uganda in the area   of supportive appliances to people with disabilities. Mr. Howard further stated that they are going to build the capacity of  the Ugandan Orthopedic technicians to be able to become   experts in managing people with disabilities.

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