Avoiding the wet couch cushions that sat directly beneath the hole in his ceiling and nervously holding onto his treatment booklet, the 45-year-old part-time builder, said: “I saw people on ARV and they were doing fine. That’s why I thought I would also do fine.”
Staring at the religious calendar with the words “Pray For Us,” printed in bold, Fred explained, “I wasn’t going to die like my wife.”
Fred was unaware of his wife’s status before she passed away, due to Tuberculosis, an Aids-related illness. He believes she brought HIV into their marriage because he often saw her secretly taking medicine.
“My wife did not tell me herself she was infected,” he said. “She was put on medicine; that’s when I realised she knew she was positive, but she refused to tell me.”
Since his wife passed on, eight years ago, Fred has known his HIV status and has been on treatment. Of his three children, only one daughter is HIV positive.
Fred says keeping up with treatment is a struggle. “Transportation is a problem, yet I am not supposed to miss treatment,” he said. But with the help of Namugongo Fund for Special Children (NFSC), he has received a lot of support.
Taking a bold step
After seeing his wife die, and realising that he was the only person left to take care of his children, Fred knew that seeking treatment was his only option.
“I was bold enough—I did not hide at any point,” he said. “I knew what I was going to pick was my life.”
Luckily, counsellors also heard his story and helped. The lack of a steady job, however, has led money to be scarce. Therefore, Fred uses his money to buy food for his family instead of transportation to get his medicine.
Fred’s behaviour in being brave enough to seek treatment and continue medication is uncommon among men. Most men rely on their wives to bring them medicine or they wait until it is too late to seek treatment.
According to Dr Lydia Mungherera, the executive director of Mama’s Club – which specialises in providing women with proper counselling and treatment services – waiting in long lines for treatment and the notion of being ill goes against the male African sociocultural norms of masculinity. Additionally, the focus on providing treatment services for women and not men has led to this increasing problem.
The social culture norms men are supposed to live by makes it a shame to be sick, she said.
With more than 1.4 million people living with HIV, 36 per cent of those infected, are men.
Although the exact number is unknown, only a small percentage of those in need of treatment are actually receiving it. With the continued African way of thinking, most Ugandan men do not seek treatment due to the stigma they face. “There is peer influence from other men,” Mungherera said. “What are you saying? You’re sick? You want to go for testing? Let the wife go there and blame her. It’s an African thing, the blame game.”
Women tend to have better health seeking behaviour, Mungherera noted. They receive treatment when they go for antenatal care and once there, health workers stress that women should bring their husbands or partners in for treatment too.
Considered top priority by health officials, women who bring their husbands in for testing and treatment are moved to an express lane. This allows them to move through the process quickly, so that they can get back to their daily lives.
“We have a problem bringing in the men, you find family support groups are supposed to have a family, but you find only women,” she said. “Where are the men?”