Mukasa Sirajeh Katantazi
My first personal experience with HIV/AIDS was when I visited my cousin Fattie (not her real name -ironically even now when she is dead, it’s still family taboo to openly say she died of AIDS), while she was on her deathbed.
I had grown up seeing Fattie every time my Auntie visited.
She was a cute bubbly character with a ready smile accentuated with one dimple on the right hand side of her face.
The child of a Muganda lady (my auntie) and a Musoga man (Oops put gentle on that before I get into trouble for discrimination), Fattie would to put it simply stop traffic (biases again -I am assuming men are still the only drivers on the roads).
Unfortunately, she ran away from home while in S.2 and resurfaced 8 years later with two kids in tandem.
She was decimated, a deniable image of her past self, sick and looked older than her age.
As I spoke to her that last time, I couldn’t help but feel pity. Fattie was living with my grandmother then having been ostracized by most family members on account of having the “abominable” disease.
Two days later she passed on.
She died lonely and bitter as most family members refused to visit her saying she had brought it to herself. The stigma remains though not as pronounced now as it was then.
An estimated 1.4 million Ugandans are living with HIV , and about 23,000 die of AIDS-related illnesses annually.
Uganda was among the first African countries to adopt the 90-90-90 Strategy in its National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS Response.
The 90-90-90 Strategy simply put is the UNAIDS ambitious target that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy(ART) and 90% of all people receiving ART will have viral suppression.
Over the past few years Uganda has made a lot of progress towards attainment of the 90-90-90 targets,
However, in the midst of the disruptions of Covid -19, people living with HIV not on treatment or virally suppressed may be at a greater risk and are more vulnerable to respiratory infections when their HIV is not well managed.
For this reason, it’s very important to have access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) especially for people a low CD4 count or a high viral load.
The preferred modus operandi of accessing ARVs has been through health centres for a month’s supply. Most of the patients travel long distances (over 20km in rural areas) to access these health facilities.
With the ban on public transport during the lockdown. the fate of this demographic of the population is precariously compromised.
Most ARVs even for those who had a month’s supply are used up and though health centres may be stocked with the drugs ( all centres were fully replenished), the thought of one walking to and from the centre on account of unavailability of public transport is mind boggling.
Coupled with the fact that if one is to use a private car, they must obtain a clearance from the RDC you cannot help but empathise.
Then there is the danger of opportunistic infections as other sections of health providers are not readily available and there is hardly any testing taking place now. The positive strides made over the years are at risk of being reversed.
I have watched with dismay and utter disbelief scenes of suspected C19 victims being shunned like a plague in health facilities as if they deliberately contracted the disease.
Indeed, in the initial days of the lockdown, a persistent cough in public would send all present scampering for dear life.
Most people living with HIV also suffer from Tuberculosis (TB) and a persistent cough is not uncommon among such people. I just wondered whether the public could differentiate between a cough occasioned by TB and one on account of C19.
Either way one was/is damned.
There is a stigmatization that a virus always brings and it has not been different with C19.
So,those living with HIV must live with the double fear of their viral load increasing and the general risk of catching C19 virus. It’s the classic case of finding oneself between a hard place and a rock.
Stay home stay safe.