Today, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS no longer means a death sentence. For many women, however, the situation can quickly turn into one. While many constraints to accessing affordable medication exist, there are other complex factors at hand. Even with the right medication, the stigma, discrimination and injustice surrounding the illness can easily erase promise and opportunity from the futures of many, flipping lives that were once vibrant into mere shadows of what they once were. Public Health Network Uganda (PHAU) is an organisation that helps to correct this imbalance.
Since 2011, PHAU has focused on tackling stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS and providing vital education to numerous communities in Uganda. In 2013, the prevalence of HIV for young men was 2.4 % and for young women, it was 4.2%. (UNAIDS, The Gap Report 2014) The spread of the illness affected women nearly twice as much as men within the same age range (15-24). This data only reinforced the international trend of girls and young women being particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV, and therefore, accelerating multi-layered risks within their livelihoods. Young women who do contract HIV are met with quite hostile and isolating social relations, complicated by the lack of education on how to prevent or manage the illness.
The most effective way of tackling this lack of information is by creating innovative programs and implementing sound policies that bridge the gap in young women’s education. This drive for comprehensive education is one of the many ways PHAU is helping lead the fight to end HIV/AIDS transmission, discrimination and stigma in Uganda. Their activities focus on providing a safe space for girls and young women to understand their condition and how to increase wellness in their lives and relationships with family, friends and within their communities. PHAU explores ways to create positive futures for the young women through hope, dignity and empowerment by also developing community initiatives targeting stigma and misinformation about HIV/AIDS.
AWDF is currently supporting PHAU with USD 15,000 to implement a compelling and unconventional outreach program to help tackle stigma within Uganda. The project was implemented in June 2015 and will be completed in November 2016.“Stamp Out Stigma” is a musical outreach campaign that reached several thousand people using flash mobs and street theatre in Kisenyi, a resource-strapped province in Kinshasa. The program’s popularity led to a sharp increase in attendance that provided an opportunity for 2,400 persons to receive HIV testing and/or counseling. Additionally, PHAU has trained and sensitised peer educators and community leaders on HIV stigma and discrimination as well as reproductive health and life skills development. The project’s reach continues to grow with PHAU reaching a total of 23,000 people.
One of PHAU’s current anti-stigma campaigns – “Tuli Wamu Nawe” – provides entrepreneurial training for HIV+ girls and young women to enable them to set up and manage small businesses. A participant, Nakisozi Mastulah – Kyabando Kisalonsalo, shares: “I have learned how to evaluated my business internally and externally using the SWOT Analysis”. The workshop also trained young women in financial systems and recordkeeping as an honest and responsible means to sustain their business practices. Such interventions also help the participants to sustain themselves and to focus on keeping a forward-thinking mindset. The training also helps the participants foster a sense of community that is integral to supporting their physical and mental wellbeing.
PHAU’s programs are widespread, impactful and inventive.The organisation’s response to the needs of positive girls and women is immense because PHAU recognises the complexity of the situation and how best to ensure accessibility, efficiency and effectiveness to those who need it the most. By using music, dance and theatre, PHAU entreats community members to confront those ostracised because of their illness as well as practices of stigma and discrimination against positive people. Through this work, it is clear that the Ugandan organisation is making holistic impact in the lives of girls and women and stimulating communities into open, active and inclusive ways of communication and participation with people living with HIV/AIDS.
For more check out their World Aids Day Flashmob below:
By: Maame Akua Kyerewaa Marfo