On Thursday, May 11th, 1978 at 08.00 pm news on UBC Radio, the then President Idi Amin Dada was quoted as saying that there were some women in Tanzania who had come with a dangerous Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) and cautioned Ugandan men against those women.
According to Amin, the STD the women were suffering from, could make people slim and losing their hair on their heads. Nobody took him seriously especially when he mentioned ever his enemy neighbor, Tanzania.
According to one of the Ugandan researchers and writers, TimothyKalyegira, State Research Bureau in addition to kidnapping and murdering real and imaginary enemies of the regime, had discovered a
dangerous STD at the enemy country and fed Amin with information.
Ordinarily, it should have been the work of the Ministry of Health but Amin assumed the portfolio. He repeated the same at the peak of the Uganda-Tanzania war in 1979 but people thought that it was his war propaganda.
However, in 1981, a dangerous disease with similar symptoms was discovered at Kasensero on the shores of Lake Victoria near Uganda- Tanzania border. In 1982, blood samples were taken to the USA and it was found that the victims were suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Obote II cabinet decided to sit on the facts on a pretext that Uganda’s national image had been tainted by Amin’s excesses and if it is announced that the same country had been invaded with HIV AIDS, then no tourist or investor would ever come to Uganda.
Rumors started in Greater Masaka as how Ugandan smugglers had gone to Bukwebwe Island in southern Lake Victoria deep inside Tanzania got merchandise on credit and never paid back.
So the Bakerebwe bewitched them with a fetish called “omuteego” which kills the entire family including husband and wife/wives and brothers and sisters in law. Although Baganda men were known not to
share wives with their brothers and vice versa, the strange disease exposed them.
On World Aids Day December 1st.1991 in an inspection done by the then Third Deputy Premier, the late Al Haji Abubaker Mayanja, guided by the then area MPs; the late Maria Lubega Mutagamba (Greater Rakai District Woman MP) and the late Emmanuel Pinto (Kakuuto) and Abu shed tears.
People had thought that HIV/AIDS was caused by witchcraft and started throwing their valued domestic items including clothes and shoes along the roads as a way of self-cleansing so that the one picks them,
becomes infected, when the government was keeping quiet.
It was after National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/NRA) victory in 1986 that, President Museveni who said, he had heard about the strange disease while in the bush war (1981-1986), came out
openly advocating for the fight till to-date.
While attending the non-aligned Movement Summit in Harare Zimbabwe, President Museveni met the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro who told him that some of the young soldiers he had sent to
Cuba for training had been rejected because they had HIV/AIDS.
Upon return, the president convened a cabinet meeting which decided to go open and was followed by Zambia, where its then President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda had lost a son over it.
The Ministry of Health set up Aids Control Program which created awareness among the population especially the youth and it made an impact. Free condoms were distributed and many other preventive measure.
Parliament came with a statute creating Uganda Aids Commission, which has done tremendous work in prevention and with the discovery of ARVs, many souls have been spared.
Following the President’s messages on HIV/AIDS fight, Uganda became the role model in fighting the scourge. In the 1990’s, the prevalence rate was 18% but has now dropped to 6%.
While adultery and fornication have reduced in one way or another, some traditions could not be abandoned. One of them is polygamy, especially among Muslims and Traditionalists.
World Health Organization (WHO) has gone the extra mile encouraging and funding male circumcision as a way of reducing the chances of catching STDs. The tireless President, in his message delivered by Minister for Presidency, Esther Mbayo last week called for the use of simple language and messages against the scourge through Media and other platforms.
With all this political will, HIV/AIDS will be defeated in Uganda by 2030 if Ugandans heed to the message.
The Writer is a Communication Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.