#WAD2019: The Fight Against HIV/AIDS Continues

To commemorate the annual World AIDS Day, Icebreakers Uganda (IBU) and Men of Night Uganda (MONU) with support from The Fund for Global Human Rights and the Stephen Lewis Foundation held a community event under the theme Ending The HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community. This was in line with the global theme Communities Make the Difference, a subject particularly zeroed on to acknowledge and celebrate the incredible role played by different communities and leaders in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The event was attended by several members of the LGBT+ community, partners, organization heads as well as community allies.  The host organisations shared their inclusive plans to help eradicate HIV/AIDS within Uganda’s sexual and gender minorities community. "We believe so much in the peer to peer approach because without these peers, we can't reach our community members at the grassroot. IBU has over 69 peer educators all over the country with 20 based in different parts of Kampala," Ayesiga said in his communique.

IBU's Clinical Assistant, Saad together with the Peer Coordinator, Reagan also briefed the gathering on history of the first LGBT+ clinic which was opened up in 2012 to cater for LGBT+ persons that couldn't access friendly and affordable health services from general hospitals. Saad further explained how the IBU clinic operates to ensure the safety and adequate delivery of health services to Uganda's LGBT community.

According to Saad, some of the services currently offered at the IBU Clinic include HTC and PREP services, Hep B screening and testing in addition to treatments for other illnesses, mental health and wellness, ART adherence and counselling, distribution of consumables like condoms, lubricants and pads, GBV services, follow ups on individuals on ART and PREP, sensitization of health care providers and self-testing kits. IBU also does its work through referrals and linkages with friendly LGBT general health facilities in addition to carrying out health outreaches in 14 districts. Plans are also underway to introduce TB prevention services in 2020.

The one-hour long panel discussion that followed focused on giving representatives from diverse CBOs an opportunity to enlighten the gathering on approaches they are using to impact most at risk communities gearing towards the elimination of HIV/ AIDS.

The Executive Director of Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA) Kikonyogo Kivumbi, in his speech highlighted that the health of the queer community is directly linked to the health of the general population. "You have heard about reinfection from a very small group of people and then it spreads to the general public. We cannot say that this part of the population should be ignored and left to have the disease because we do not agree with them. Yes, we can have a difference in opinion because of how someone is living their life but health can't wait," Kikonyogo stressed.

Kikonyogo called for love and togetherness within the key populations communities despite the limited resources. This will encourage mentorship, boost confidence and ability of people to go in spaces and express themselves which will contribute to elimination of stigma, bias and misinformation about our communities while we make a difference to end the HIV pandemic in Uganda. He also revealed that the Ministry of Health through TASO confirmed that the last batch of consumables (lubricants) will be in the country in the next two weeks.

There were several other speeches given commending organisations that were working towards the eradication of HI/AIDS, stigma associated with the pandemic as well as mental health disorders within the Ugandan LGBT+ community.

The half-day event was crowned with a candle lighting ceremony in honor of loved ones that have lost their lives to the AIDS scourge. The IBU clinic was also open for the rest of the day to offer HTC and other health services to community members in attendance.

World AIDS Day is celebrated annually on 1st December.