Sunday December 1 2013

Many men still hit on me despite my HIV status

Many men still hit on me despite my HIV status

The jolly Barbara Kemigisa. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa. 

When did you discover that you were HIV Positive?
During my Senior Six vacation in 2009, I got into a relationship with a student of Makerere University. We were so much in love with each other and would spend half the time together. Two months down the road, we broke up.

A few weeks after the split, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was bewildered. Out of curiosity, an urge to know my HIV status crept in. I shared this with a friend who gave me a go ahead. I went to Kibuli Barracks Hospital. I was counselled and a blood sample was drawn. When the results were out, the nurse informed me that I was HIV positive. They tested my CD4 count and it was 135. They asked me to start taking ARVs right away.

What was your reaction to the news?
Well, before the nurse took a sample of my blood, I had prayed to God that I use whichever results I received for His glory. Besides, I did not know much about HIV. I was just 22 years old. The news was disturbing but these two factors helped to tone down the worry and shock.

The person you informed first?
I did not tell anyone immediately. I failed to come up with the best way to package and break the news. Truth is, my challenge was how to tell them and not their reaction. I kept this to myself.

However, after giving birth to my daughter, I was chosen to feature in a HIV related documentary called Imagine Africa which was going to broadcast on the local television channels and in 32 other African countries. I felt it was time to tell the people around me about my status or else they would learn it from the documentary.

I told my dad first. By the end of the conversation, I had been disowned. I did not feel the impact since I was staying with my relatives. Next to know were the relatives I shared the roof with. They were taken aback but later understood and became supportive.

And your ex-boyfriend?
He is the one that I put in the know after my relatives. At first he did not believe me. He was forced to think better when the documentary was broadcast and he saw me. This was the evidence that pushed him to go for a test. He turned out to be negative.

So whom do you point a finger at for infecting you?
To date, I am not sure who it could be. But, it could be my uncles who introduced me to sex at six years. It is unfortunate that my dad never believed me when I revealed this to him.

Was life any different after testing HIV positive?
Yes it was, especially after giving birth. I did not have enough money to cater for my daughter and me. In fact it is the reason why she is also HIV positive. During antenatal, I had been informed to choose between breast feeding her or giving her fresh milk. I failed to take either option because I could not sustain my choice. Time came when I could not afford to buy a cup of milk for her. I thus switched to giving her breast milk against the caution I had been given. As a result, she contracted the virus.

Your demeanor is not one that is assumed of HIV positive people?
I am naturally a happy, bubbly, bold and a positive person. When something wrong happens, I zero on the positive side of the coin. For example, after learning of my status, I went to Infectious Disease Institute in Mulago and joined the programmes that taught about the virus. I made it a point to learn as much as I could about it. The doctors admired my positivity. They would occasionally ask me to counsel my fellow youths who were struggling to get to terms with the fact that they were HIV positive. I have since been involved in numerous campaigns to create awareness about the ailment.

What drives you?
The desire to see a world that is HIV free. I was unfortunate, but I do not want any other person to be in my shoes because of ignorance. I use every platform availed to me to inform the masses. It is because of this that I ended up being an artiste (she laughs). Last year, I recorded an awareness song called Step Out. I am in the process of releasing another titled Njagaza which means “search me”.

Has being infected been a blessing in disguise?
Yes. I am in a position to make a positive and lasting impact on society.

Do men hit on you?
Ha! Very many do. But I am always honest with them about my status. Some take it for a joke and assume that I am just keeping them away. But I refer them to my Facebook page where I have made my status public knowledge. For the very persistent men, I take them home with me and show them pinups of my interviews from the different magazines where I declared my HIV status. The rest, I refer them to interviews that I have done with numerous magazines.

Have you ever suffered discrimination?
No. The fact that I have been honest to people about my status and that I do not carry myself as a dejected person, has made me likeable.

Are you in love?
No. Currently, I am concentrating on my awareness projects but when I meet the right person, I’ll settle down with him. Though, one condition stands, they should be willing to accept my daughter.

Advice to the youth?
One should know that he/she is the only negative person out there. You can only prove your partner’s status when you go for test. Otherwise, looks are deceptive.