News / Africa

Ugandan Woman Works to End HIV Stigma

HIV youth activist Barbara Kemigisa at her home in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2012. (Hillary Heuler /VOA)
HIV youth activist Barbara Kemigisa at her home in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2012. (Hillary Heuler /VOA)
KAMPALA, Uganda – While the world's leading experts on HIV/AIDS are preparing for the upcoming AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington, D.C., one young Ugandan activist is focusing on problems much closer to home.

“I am Barbara Kemigisa, I am an activist and an upcoming artist, a single mother living with HIV,” Kemigisa tells the audience. She is fighting to rid her generation of the stigma attached to HIV, and to convince young HIV positives that their lives are not over yet.

On a sultry Kampala afternoon, the 26-year-old singer is rehearsing a new song in a make-shift sound studio in the Ugandan capital. This is not a love ballad or the next hot dance tune. Like everything Kemigisa does, her music is about self-confidence, hope and the possibilities of living with HIV.

Vibrant and charismatic, Kemigisa has become a spokeswoman for thousands of young people in Uganda, a country with an HIV infection rate of around seven percent.  The founder an organization called Stigma Free Generation, she puts in regular appearances on TV and radio shows, tells her story in magazine articles, and speaks in churches and schools.

Uphill battle

Kemigisa’s message to young people is this: do not let your HIV status destroy your life, conquer the stigma within you, and do not be afraid to say you are HIV positive.

But, Kemigisa says, it is an uphill battle.

“Because of stigma, people do not believe in themselves.  Because of stigma, people can not test for HIV.  People still say, ‘I would rather not know my status than test HIV positive.’  Mothers cannot save their unborn babies because they cannot tell their husbands that, I am HIV positive, I need your support,’” she says.

Kemigisa’s own story is difficult. Sexually molested as a child, she spent part of her teenage years living on the streets of Kampala. She eventually joined a church and discovered that she had a gift for counseling youth.

Kemigisa learned she was HIV positive when she was pregnant with her daughter, now three years old. But, she says, learning her status only galvanized her to try to help young people like herself.

“I kept what my passion was, to speak to young people," she explains. "I just looked at the whole issue of HIV, what it is all about, and I was like, 'OK, I think I know what I have to do.”

What she did was to come out very publicly about her status, wearing “HIV positive” earrings and T-shirts she made herself, and talking to everyone she met about the disease.

Stigma

She found that what hurt people the most was not HIV itself, but the stigma attached to it.

“It takes 40 years plus for HIV to kill, and it takes two years and less for AIDS to kill.  But it takes 10 minutes and less for stigma to kill," Kemigisa notes. "Someone just tells you something small to put you down, and that person commits suicide.”

It is often young people who are the most devastated, she says.

“They believe if they get HIV, their life is cut short," adds Kemigisa. "They just look at the things they may not be able to do because they are HIV-positive.”

Sometimes HIV-positive people are treated as though they were already dead, says Kemigisa, describing what happened to a friend of hers.

“When the whole family found out, her dad even bought a coffin for her. ‘That is your coffin, we are just waiting for the day you die.’  You can pass somewhere and some guy calls at you, and [his] friends are like, ‘That one is already dead,” Kemigisa laments.

Kemigisa’s father disowned her when he learned her HIV status, and she practically never sees her family. But she manages to stay upbeat, and is still full of ideas for new projects. 

Future plans

At the moment, Kemigisa is working on a reality TV show featuring young people living with HIV. She is also organizing a Miss HIV beauty pageant, to challenge stereotypes and boost girls’ confidence.

And then, of course, there is her music.

“’I dream of a city where people line up for a test, with ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs] at every drug shop, at every clinic; mothers taking the lead to save their unborn babies, and husbands supportive, with every neighbor in the fight towards an HIV-free generation," she says. "That is one of the verses for a song. I want to be the first lady to come out positive and sing about it.”

Despite her activism, Kemigisa will not be attending this month’s AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington, D.C. The reasons for that are political, she explains. But that has not stopped her from thinking big, as she dreams someday of spreading her message of hope throughout Africa, and, eventually, the world.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More