Nicholas Sengooba

HIV/Aids: How the past is finding its way into the present

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By Nicholas Sengoba

Posted  Tuesday, December 3  2013 at  02:00

On the day of the commemoration of World Aids Day (December 1) it is difficult not to remember the many lives that have been lost to this carnage. I have lost count of people both young and old who were personally known to me and succumbed to this disease.
I remember in the early 80s reading about a mysterious disease called ‘slim’ that would leave a victim emaciated before they passed on. They always died. It was mainly in Rakai and Masaka so we thought it was a disease for villagers and those sorts of ‘lowly’ people.

Then it came to Kampala and we started seeing people we knew catching the disease and passing on. What I recall in those days, suffers as a rule lost so much weight, it was visible that they were sick.

Their hair fell off the head, and acquired dark patches or boils on their skin. They also suffered from ‘oral thrash’ as the doctors called it – a thick whitish substance that was visible in the mouth. Many also developed red lips. Then people would say ‘attomedde’ (he has had an accident) or ‘kamulidde’ (it has eaten him.)

Having any or all the above conditions meant that one was a subject of ridicule, worry and was often ostracised. In those days, diagnosis was mainly by ‘optical appreciation’ coupled with rumor. You looked at a person and put together what else you had heard then you just knew that they were going to die.

Then the disease spread to ‘respectable people’ and those close to us, mauling both young and old and that is when we woke up. It was no longer a disease for villagers and prostitutes. We put some ‘respect’ to it though. A person who died from the disease it was claimed had suffered from a long illness, organ failure, meningitis or cancer but not Aids.

Then came the revelation by Philly Bongoley Lutaya that he was a victim. Acceptability increased and more people went for testing and counselling aware that they could also catch the disease. But myths still remained in the public domain which was very dangerous. It was thought that fat people were not sick. Or that old people (50+) were free from the disease.
It is this point that comes from the past and is becoming a major challenge to the eradication of this pandemic, -myths and misconceptions. Today there are many young girls especially in higher institutions of learning using the emergency or ‘morning after’ pill which are available in pharmacies. There are also several cases of abortions (it is difficult to get an exact figure because abortion is illegal in Uganda.)

What all this tells us is that people are having casual sex and doing it without using protection or condoms. For the girls the fear is about getting pregnant not catching sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

Many men with money think that young girls especially in the school going age bracket, who are willing to have sex (especially for financial gain in these hard economic times) are free from HIV simply because they are ‘still fresh’ so there is no need to bother using condoms.

Many do not appreciate the fact that a ‘fresh’ person could have been born 20 years ago with the virus transmitted from their parents and has lived this long due to the power of modern medicine.

There is also a belief that when people are using ARV’s which suppress the viral load, they cannot infect their partners or that these drugs cure HIV/Aids so there is no need for apprehension. Others simply appreciate people who look healthy and then go to bed with them without taking a test.

The generation that did not see victims wasting away with oral thrash and all sorts of rashes may not take this disease seriously for these days a person may catch the disease and not show extreme symptoms. But HIV/Aids is real and is not something to be taken casually.

For starters, take a test (like the President did) to know your status. Abstain, be faithful or use a condom if you must. You only have one life to live and will enjoy it if you stay healthy.

Charles, Esther, Emmy, Patrick, Kenneth, George, James and so many others. Rest in Eternal Peace.