The Observer Newspaper By Faith Nassozi Kyateka friday 19 September 2014
Uganda is acclaimed as a champion against HIV/Aids for decades, having made tremendous strides in containing the pandemic and reversing its spread. However, 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 recognised 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 mobilisation 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. To raise awareness on HIV stigma, Marie Stopes Uganda, the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/Aids, and the HIV Bible Movement organized the first ever Y+ beauty pageant in Uganda. The event aimed at empowering young people affected by and infected with HIV/Aids with life skills and guidance, and inspiring them to contribute to both social and economic development.
This novel event was held to celebrate beauty with zero discrimination, with the essence of fighting stigma and discrimination against young people living with HIV. Y+ represents young people living with HIV. The event was also a fundraiser for a Youth+ Centre. The guest of honour – former Vice-President Specioza Wandira – shared her experience as a minister for Youth in the early ‘90s. She stated how she was castigated by the Church and Mothers Union for speaking out openly about the use of condoms, yet people continued to acquire HIV/Aids through unprotected sex. She commended the youths for carrying forward this cause, and urged the public to fight HIV stigma. At the pageant, Sharifa Nalugo Kyomukama (19 years old) and Ronald Juan Kaganda (20) emerged Miss and Mr Y+ respectively. These two will be ambassadors for the zero campaign and will spearhead national campaigns towards “Getting to zero” – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero Aids-related deaths. They will also be role models in the fight against the spread of new infections of HIV and promote the Marie Stopes toll-free hotline number (0800120333), through which people can access HIV-related information and services. More efforts are still needed to fight the HIV stigma, especially among the youth. Therefore, there is need for focused and sustained national interventions, initiated by government, in collaboration with other stakeholders.
Some of the strategies that need to be reinforced include the following.
- Providing basic information on HIV/Aids prevention and care.
- Increasing access to HIV/Aids testing and counselling services.
- Enhancing positive attitudes in addressing HIV/Aids issues among the youth, and the community at large.
- Adolescents and young people represent the future of every society. However, the HIV stigma continues to be a significant problem which inhibits them from optimally contributing towards growth of society. Efforts to fight stigma should be consolidated and scaled up to ensure that we create an environment which allows young people to live a vibrant and hopeful life in order for them to reach their full potential. http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33915:-lets-fight-stigma-against-youths-with-hiv&catid=37:guest-writers&Itemid=66