By Oyet Okwera
Previously, people used to equate HIV/AIDS to a death sentence.
Some microfinance institutions in Mityana regarded business people living with HIV as a risky group because of the belief that they were more vulnerable to death. Because of this, many of them lost their businesses as financial institutions shunned away from granting them loans.
However, the discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, especially through guaranteeing loans, will soon be history.
Microfinance institutions in Uganda through the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda (AMFIU) have partnered with the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda to address challenges of stigma that people living with HIV/AIDS face as they seek for loans to boost their businesses.
Given support, people living with HIV/AIDS can be more productive and boost microfinance institutions’ revenue generation through increased clientele base.
HIV positive people in business
Business Vision recently visited Ttamu Ssikyomu HIV/AIDS Positive Group in Mityana district to witness their entrepreneurial business skills.
The group, with 75 members, of whom 40 are women, publicly disclosed their HIV status to their communities. Among other members are orphans and HIV positive children. The group has only five men because HIV disclosure among men is still low.
Rose Ssemuwemba, the coordinator of Ttamu Ssikyomu, said the main reason they formed the group was to become self-reliant through business.
Ssemuwemba said the group is involved in poultry, piggery, stone quarrying, handcraft and renting party items such as tents and saucepans.
She adds that they also help members to access antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs.
“Unfortunately very few men disclose their HIV status because they fear being discriminated against,” Ssemuwemba says.
Offering support and care
“Apart from encouraging business prosperity, we are aware that it is our responsibility to create awareness and encourage people, especially those already infected with HIV to live positively by using ARVs,” explained Ssemuwemba
In the group, Ssemuwemba says, each member has a contribution to make in the businesses they engage in.
Josephine Kalyesubula, a member, said since it is hard for them to acquire cheap loans from financial institutions, members are encouraged to save money in their own ‘bank’.
She said last year, the group saved sh3m.
“We also get support from Mityana Hospital. Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese also gave us sh4.7m,” said Kalyesubula.
According to the Uganda AIDS progress report of 2012, domestic revenue devoted to HIV /AIDS spending is limited, and that without donor funds, the total national spending on HIV/ AIDS would be only 15% of domestic revenue.
If all the 540,000 eligible people living with HIV are put on antiretroviral therapy, the country would need $270m, which far exceeds the current per capita expenditure on health of only $25m.
This calls for concerted effort if Uganda is to avert new infections and reverse the current trend in the epidemic.
The Agency for Co-operation in Research and Development (ACORD) has already agreed to support clients of microfinance institutions.
Stop Aids Now (SAN) and Humanist Institute for Co-operation (Hivos) recently put aside over sh680m for the project, which is expected to roll out across the country.
Microfinance institutions have been gaining popularity for stabilising incomes of poor households through poverty reduction and economic strengthening of people living with HIV.
Samuel Ndonga, the programme officer at Hivos, noted that many organisations have inadequate knowledge to deal with people living with HIV.
“We intend to sensitise all financial institutions to note that people living with HIV can even be more productive. These institutions should change their mindset that it is risky to financially deal with people living with HIV,” explained Ndonga.
According to Ndonga, the project is also expected to develop workplace policy on HIV and AIDS to combat challenges of stigma at work.
With this project, Ndonga says: “People living with HIV will benefit through increased access to financial services, which will in turn help them procure ARVs.
David Baguma, the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda executive director, said the project will open gates for people living with HIV/ AIDS to be self-sustainable.
Baguma adds that all people living with HIV, especially those in business, will be educated about different business prospects.
“This project will cover 20 microfinance institutions and 15 groups of people living with HIV spread across Uganda. The institutions were selected through expression of interest to participate in the project,” said Baguma
He noted that HIV does not cause inability and called on microfinance institutions in Uganda to look at clients living with HIV/AIDS as equally productive.
“We want those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS not to shy away from doing productive work. They should engage in productive business to make a livelihood just like anyone else,” said Baguma.
Members weaving mats. The women sale handcraft to improve their incomes
Financial firms turn focus on people living with HIV/AIDS