Decades with HIV and still hopeful

Thursday November 29 2018

Living positively for 33 years, Aloysius

Living positively for 33 years, Aloysius Matovu’s goal is to sensitise youth about protection and abstinence. Photo by Michael Kakumirizi 

By Phionah Nassanga

Aloysius Matovu, 58, acquired HIV in 1985 at the age of 25 while studying at the university. Growing up in a staunch Catholic family, he always wanted to be a priest and eagerly participated in different church activities such as serving as an altar boy. However, little did he know that he would not realise his childhood dream.
“At the time I wanted to join the seminary, I unfortunately discovered that my parents were not joined in holy matrimony, a key requirement for joining priesthood,” he says. After a failed dream, Matovu started living a reckless life which involved having unprotected sex.

Living in denial
“In 1985, I developed a skin rash on the thighs but did not in any way relate it to herpes zoster. I went to hospital and was given a lotion and a few days of use cleared the rash.”
After graduating in 1986, Matovu decided to pursue a master’s degree in Canada and it was mandatory to go for an HIV test before travelling to Canada.
“After the written interviews, which I passed, I proceeded to the Virus Institute in Entebbe for the HIV test. It was the only place where HIV tests were carried out then,” he recalls.
After two weeks, Matovu returned to the institute for his results but the doctor just looked at him sadly and without a word or written document went back to the laboratory.

Another test
Contracting tuberculosis in 1993, he still paid a deaf ear to the probable fact that he might have HIV. “I thought that since it is an airborne disease and I might have contracted it from one of my friends. However, he says, after several years, the cough persisted and in 2001 he started getting continuous fevers.
“Although I became suspicious, I did not go for any tests.”
However, in June 2001, during a trip to the United Kingdom with the Bakayimbira Dramactors, his friends, who noticed his frail appearance asked him to test for HIV.
“At Newham hospital in London, I was diagnosed with HIV/ Aids. My CD count was as low as 191 and because I also had tuberculosis, I was put in isolation,” he narrates. Matovu says confirming he was HIV positive and the thought of daily medication was heartbreaking. That was coupled with remembering how his friends Philly Bongole Lutaaya, Livingstone Kasozi and his siblings had been stigmatised, discriminated against and wrongly judged by society. “I saw myself staring death in the eye,” he says.

Telling family and friends
While opening up to friends Andrew Benon Kibuuka and Charles Ssekubunga was not hard, telling his wife, who was miles away felt like writing his own death warrant. Since he would not be allowed to travel back to Uganda while sick and weak, Matovu applied to stay in the UK.
While in London, he decided to start a new life, sensitising people about HIV and volunteering with organisations such as the London East Aids Network, Body and soul, Living Well and Black Liners. “When my life was out of danger, I started thinking of how to break the news to my wife.
He started with a few hints with every phone call such as reminding her of the many times she had accompanied him to Mulago hospital because of the persistent coughing and the continuous fevers he had suffered. Then in 2002, Matovu told his wife about his status.
After four years in the diaspora, Matovu returned to Uganda in 2005. His first step was taking his wife and children to Mildmay for a blood test and thankfully, they all tested negative.

Decision to go public
In 2015, Matovu was invited by Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) to a conference where he presided over as the guest of honour. During his speech, he told the audience he was HIV positive. Today, Matovu goes to different schools sensitising students about HIV/Aids because he thinks ours is a sexually active generation.
“Children as young as Primary Three are engaging in sexual activities. So, there is need to tell them about protection and abstinence,” he says.

Rev Can Gideon Byamugisha
The Anglican priest became the first religious leader to publicly announce that he was HIV positive. Having lost his wife to the virus, and almost dying of Aids related illness himself, he has spent his life and energy battling the stigma, shame, denial of HIV/Aids in Africa. The Anglican priest became the first religious leader to publicly announce that he was HIV positive. Having lost his wife to the virus, and almost dying of Aids related illness himself, he has spent his life and energy battling the stigma, shame, denial of HIV/Aids in Africa.

Maj Rubaramira Ruranga
For almost 30 years, Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, has been one of the most important voices for the HIV cause. Maj Rubaramira tested HIV positive in 1989 at 36 years and doctors gave him a maximum of three years to prepare for his death. Today, the 70-year-old believes he will die of old age not Aids.
He is among the first public figures to state their HIV status after artiste Philly Bongole Lutaaya and Moses Nsubuga ‘Super Charger’. He was also among the first people to offer themselves for HIV trials and to be initiated on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Noerine Kaleeba
In 1986, Noerine Kaleeba received a call from England, where her husband Christopher was studying. When she arrived, Christopher had been admitted at Castle Hill, a teaching hospital in Hull, England. “Christopher left home the most handsome, full of hope, 87kgs of a man. But the man I met at the hospital was almost skin and bone, 42kgs,” she told pbs.org in 2006.
Although she was able to bring him home, Kaleeba was forced to care for her husband herself because no healthcare workers in Uganda would touch him. Christopher died in January 1987 and in her grief and outrage, Kaleeba and 15 others, founded The Aids Support Organisation (Taso).

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