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

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail 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.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

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