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A Short Journey of Love; The Fate of HIV+ Living

By Sierra Arinaitwe

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Her great fear was that her children would get infected

Kyomuhendo Maria, a single mother to two children living with HIV managed to secure a job as a house maid in one of the Kampala suburbs in Mbuya, which was cut short because of her health status.

“When we started living, I felt all the love and good treatment as any other normal person. The problem came when my boos came and found her children playing with a razor blade which I also ever used, that is when I lost my job,” narrates Kyomuhendo.

According to her, she revealed her HIV status to her employer even before taking her for a medical checkup and to her luck, the employer gave her all the support she needed with medication and the information was kept private from the children.

“Young children have all kinds of perceptions about people living with HIV, that’s the reason why we didn’t inform our children about Maria’s status,” Kyomuhendo’s boss explains.

She adds that “we wanted Maria to feel at home with out any kind of discrimination from the children.”

However, Kyomuhendo’s journey of feeling loved was cut short just few months down the road.

She recalls that her employer who was so compassionate with her on one fateful day found children playing with Kyomuhendo’s razor blade and she was instantly fired from work for being careless.

“Her great fear was that her children would get infected,” she states.

Just like Kyomuhendo, most of the people living with HIV are identified as one of the vulnerable groups in society. When one’s status is known, it becomes hard to get employed as well as retain them at work places. In turn, this leaves them exposed to discrimination, criminalization and stigma of all kinds.

Most people do not know how to deal with employees or co-workers living with HIV as their biggest fear is being infected by them. This could be the main reason why most victims do not expose their status but however it may not be safe for people around them.

Some people take up girls as maids, take health tests without their knowledge. If found positive, it is rare that they will keep the job.

Dealing with HIV positive employees.

Ms. Dora Kiconco, Executive Director for UGANET speaking to the media recently. FILE PHOTO

Ms Dora Kiconco, the executive director of UGANET an organization which stands against stigma discrimination and criminalization of people living with HIV advises people to follow the 3Cs when employing positive people.

First is to Counsel the victims on how best they can live without infecting other people around them.

According to Kiconco, Counseling gives the victims knowledge about how they can handle themselves at work, for example, time to take medicines or in case of getting a cut during work how best they can handle various situations.

Secondly, employers of people living with HIV must ask for their Consent before subjecting them for testing.

“There are cases where by an employer tests his/her employee without their knowledge, if found positive, most of them are fired immediately even with out disclosing the reason why,” She said.

The third one is Confidentiality of an employee’s status. According to Kiconco, the issue of confidentiality depends on who should know about the status and in which way is one told especially when children are involved in order to avoid stigma and discrimination.

A question of Confidentiality

HIV activists showing placards advocating for a stigma of criminalization free society. FILE PHOTO

Confidentiality about one’s status is one of the most important things one can do for a person living with HIV. It is not fair to disclose one’s status to people as it can cause stigma and discrimination. But from whom are you supposed to hide the information? Being HIV positive doesn’t strip any one from their right to employment. Could the kids have been more careful if they knew about the maid’s status?

Dr. Byamukama John, a counsellor at Reach out Mbuya parish HIV initiative pointed out the issue of a child’s age when disclosing a maid’s status to them.

“It is tricky to disclose the status to young children as compared to teenagers aged at least 16 and above,” he states.

He adds that “young children may not know how to handle the situation but older children need be informed on how to live without being infected.”

Employing people living with HIV has not affected only careers of housemaids, but there are a number of hidden cases in other important careers such as nurses, secretaries, messengers and other profession is not risky.

Dr Byamukama advises people in such professions while living with HIV to consider informing their immediate supervisors about their health status.

“When an employer is aware of his/ her employees’ status, he/she can provide a better working condition for them through giving them time off when they are ill or even go for their appointments incase there is need to,” he said.

He also advises both employees and employers to point out ways in which they can infect each other and be critical about them.

Also read:

Media asked to harmonize reports about People Living with HIV

Statistics

In 2018, an estimated 1.4 million people were living with HIV, and an estimated 23,000 Ugandans died of AIDS-related illnesses.

The epidemic is firmly established in the general population. As of 2018, the estimated HIV prevalence among adults (aged 15 to 49) stood at 5.7%.

Women are disproportionately affected, with 8.8% of adult women living with HIV compared to 4.3% of men.

Other groups particularly affected by HIV in Uganda are sex workers, young girls and adolescent women, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and people from Uganda’s transient fishing communities.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of people living with HIV accessing treatment.

Stigma and criminalization as key barriers

However much there are strong measures that have been set up to ensure prevention and treatment of HIV Aids, criminalization and social stigma are continuing to be key barrier to the achievement of the UNAIDS 2020 Vision of 90-90-90.

Reports indicate that prejudices and social discrimination are some of the leading causes for certain groups of Uganda’s population, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, to avoid seeking health care or HIV testing.

However, even the general population of people living with HIV are subjected to social stigma and negative judgement.

A 2015 survey conducted by HIV support organizations, in partnership with the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAFOPHANU), of people living with and affected by HIV in central and south-western Uganda found stigma, both internal and external, to be high.

When the study began, more than half (54%) reported experiencing some form of discrimination or prejudice as a result of having HIV.

What is 90-90-90?

A demonstration of 90-90-90 UNAIDS vision 2020.

The 90–90–90 targets envision that, by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads.

In terms of all people living with HIV, reaching the 90–90–90 targets means that 81% of all people living with HIV are on treatment and 73% of all people living with HIV are virally suppressed.

Also read:

Young Adolescents Champion Fight Against HIV Stigma in Teso

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