To commemorate the World AIDS Day, December 1, The New Vision, in conjunction with the parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS, will award individuals, who have played a remarkable role in the fight against HIV in their communities. Profiles of the people nominated by the public will be published.
RUTH Mbabazi, 35, a mother of one, says she in 1998 had taken to drinking and smoking and every time she drank, she had an overwhelming desire for sex. This put her at the risk of acquiring HIV because she had sex with any man during her drinking sprees.
Mbabazi, a resident of Kijenga in Kabarole district, says she contracted HIV because of her reckless lifestyle.
When she started getting constant fever, stomach aches and pneumonia, she did not think of going for a test because she was sure she had HIV. “I knew I was positive,” Mbabazi says.
Asta Kanyunyuzi, a neighbour came to see her and encouraged her to test for HIV. “I went to Yerya Health Centre and the results were positive,” she recalls.
In 2005, she again went to Virika Hospital and Buhinga Regional Referral Hospital in Fort Portal for more tests, which all turned out positive. The doctors gave her septrin until 2007 when she was given ARVs.
Mbabazi says at that time, her lungs were in a poor state. The doctors would remove about two litres of puss everyday. “I was vomiting blood, had a horrible stench and I thought of stopping the treatment but Kanyunyuzi urged me to go on,” she says.
Despite her condition, Mbabazi did not stop drinking alcohol and smoking. “When ever Kanyunyuzi came to find out how I was coping with the treatment, she found me drank. She counselled and told me to choose between alcohol and my life.”
Cephas Murungi, 49, a mother of seven, says in 2004, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. After his death, she was worried she would follow suit.
In 2006, she developed skin rashes and Kanyunyuzi urged her to take an HIV test since she was not sure of what her husband had died of. “She encouraged me that even if I was HIV-positive, I still have a chance to live,” She told me she was HIV-positive but I doubted her because she looked healthy,” Murungi says.
Kanyunyuzi’s husband, James Magambo, a retired army officer, says he never wanted to go for a test but she convinced him to.
He was afraid of knowing his status, having seen Kanyunyuzi bedridden. Magambo, who is also taking ARVs, says they decided to publicly declare their HIV status to save others from contracting the disease.
“We want to encourage others to test and know their status. We also want to sensitise them on how they can avoid contracting the HIV virus,” he says.
Magambo says his wife has done well in fighting the epidemic. He says: “She visits the patients in their homes and tells them the importance of having a balanced diet, eating green vegetables, fruits and drinking boiled water to boost their immunity.”
Asta Kanyunyuzi, says she got to know she had HIV in 2002 after being diagnosed with TB. “I was persistently sick and lost my hair. I thought I was bewitched,” she says.
Being semi- illiterate has not stopped Kanyunyuzi from fighting the disease. She formed an organisation, Nyantabooma Tweyimuhukye Group, to sensitise people living with HIV and those on ARV treatment to adhere to their drugs and follow their doctors’ instructions.
The 400-member group sensitises the public through music, dance and drama.
Kanyunyuzi says she would have died long ago was it not for ARV drugs.
She says whenever she is travelling, her drugs are the first item she packs.
Kanyunyuzi also says she declared her status to stop men from asking for sex, though most people don’t believe she is HIV-positive.
“When you take ARVs and feed well, people can not believe that you are sick because you always look healthy,” she says.
She appeals to the health ministry to strengthen the sensitisation programmes on voluntary counselling and testing and also encourage those infected to abstain or practice safe sex to avoid infecting others. She also wants the Government to make ARVs accessible and affordable for all those in need of them.