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

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins 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.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid