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HIV/AIDS- Stigma increases school dropout rate in Gulu

By Vision Reporter

Added 14th June 2009 03:00 AM

STIGMATISATION is still a setback in the fight against AIDS, leading to an increase in the school dropout rate of children living with HIV/AIDS.

STIGMATISATION is still a setback in the fight against AIDS, leading to an increase in the school dropout rate of children living with HIV/AIDS.

By Dennis Ojwee

STIGMATISATION is still a setback in the fight against AIDS, leading to an increase in the school dropout rate of children living with HIV/AIDS.

Students say they have been compelled to either drop out of school, leave boarding for day schools or change schools because they are being stigmatised by fellow students.

One girl who preferred only to be named as Joan in Senior Three, says she wants to transfer to another school because students at her current school point fingers and gossip about her. This is causing her a lot of psychological trauma.

“Sometimes I fear coming to school because of what other students might say about me,” she said.

Walter Komakec, the project officer of Health Alert-Uganda, said the project is looking after 1,833 children, 759 girls and 624 boys.

Health Alert-Uganda is a non-governmental organisation supporting children living with and those affected by HIV/AIDS in Gulu.
Komakec said the number of children living with HIV/AIDS has increased ever since the project started its operations in 2004.

He said the organisation had intensified community-based approaches, working with locals at the sub-county, parish and village levels.

Peer educators and volunteers move to the villages where they meet families and encourage them to carry out voluntary blood testing, he said.

“However, stigmatisation still remains a big challenge. The only way to fight this is through massive sensitisation of the communities to create awareness so that more and more people can go for voluntary counselling and testing,” said Komakec.

Joan said with the comments her colleagues at school make, she finds it difficult to concentrate in class.

She applauds AVSI, an Italian organisation, for paying her tuition, and the Health Alert-Uganda for offering free counselling, health education, food relief and parental guidance.

Joan said her relatives told her that her mother died 17 years ago when she was still a baby. She said her father, who is still alive, neglected her.

She lives with her grandmother in Gulu town. The grandmother does not work and has no constant source of income.

She says she wants to study hard and become a doctor so that she can treat people living HIV. She says getting ARVs and drugs for treating opportunistic infections is a problem.

“My father does not give me any support. I appeal to the Government and non-governmental organisations like Windle Trust and Invisible Children to support me and other children living with HIV/AIDS so we do not feel abandoned.”

Another girl, Brenda, 18 in Senior Four, was born with HIV. She said she is an orphan, having lost her parents when she was only one year old.

“I moved from Sacred Heart SSS, a boarding school in Gulu, because of stigma from fellow students who after learning of my dilemma, mocked me and uttered awful words as I took my drugs. I am now in a day school.

I feel more comfortable because I take my drugs from home,” says Brenda. She wants to be either a nurse or an agricultural engineer.
“My mother was a nurse.

That is why I also want to become a nurse. I want to help people living with AIDS, especially in the Acholi sub-region.

I ask the Government to look at all the children, especially those in northern Uganda, who are living with HIV/AIDS as useful citizens,” she says.

Francis, 18, in Senior Six at Koch Goma SSS in Amuru district, says the support being given by Health Alert-Uganda gives him the will to live and instills hope in him.

“It makes me think I still have a better future despite living with HIV/AIDS.” He wants to be an accountant or a lawyer.

He boasts of practising total abstinence and not searching for a sexual partner yet. He says this will help him live positively and minimise the risk of infecting other people.

“I fear that with the meagre resources my father gets from his peasant farming, I might not achieve my dreams.

”His father cannot afford to pay her school fees of sh100,000 a term. “I am being offered free education at Koch Goma SSS.

The school is willing to take me on until Senior Six. Who will sponsor me at the university?” Francis wonders.

The Health Alert-Uganda programme officer, Jennifer Opoka, says the challenges the organisation faces in fighting HIV include: low male involvement, stigma, discrimination and limited community involvement in caring for children living with AIDS.

She says Save the Children Denmark, through Save the Children Uganda, provides funding to the projects.

She adds: “The projects aim at promoting positive living with improved care to children living with AIDS.

Others are to prepare the children for disclosure, strengthen capacity of Health Alert in Uganda and to map out locations of all the children to enable facilitation.”

Health Alert is a six-year-old organisation in Gulu Municipality that is supporting 1,833 children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS- Stigma increases school dropout rate in Gulu

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