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I work towards an HIV free-world

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd November 2009 03:00 AM

WHEN he approached me and said he was HIV-positive, I did not know what to tell him. I was overwhelmed by sympathy but also astonished at his boldness.

WHEN he approached me and said he was HIV-positive, I did not know what to tell him. I was overwhelmed by sympathy but also astonished at his boldness.

By Hope Mafaranga

Name: Umaru Gumusiriza
Age: 33
Location: Kamwenge
Contribution: He has formed a team of four to sensitise the community Position: Counsellor at Saluti in Kamwenge Town Council
Contact: +256785051777

WHEN he approached me and said he was HIV-positive, I did not know what to tell him. I was overwhelmed by sympathy but also astonished at his boldness.

What reason does he have to disclose this to me? It is a personal issue and we are not related,” Annette Katushabe, 23, of Saluti in Kamwenge Town Council, says of her first encounter with Umaru Gumisiriza.

Gumisiriza is on a mission to help the youth avoid getting infected with HIV/AIDS. That is why he opted to disclose his status.

“From then I started avoiding him. Whenever I saw him at a distance, I took a different route. But he was resilient. He sought after me and urged me to join him in sensitising the youth about the dangers of HIV and the benefits of abstinence,” Katushabe says.

She says Gumisiriza urged her to go for an HIV test and explained to her why it is necessary for everyone to do so.

“Knowing your sero status brings a new perspective to the way you perceive life and boosts confidence in someone to steer the campaign,” he told me.

“At first I was hesitant and shy to talk about HIV but Gumisiriza assured me that speaking up helps people think about how to avoid the plight.

“I asked him about his public declaration of his sero status and he told me his objective is to show the world that HIV/AID is spreading.”

Katushabe says that when she joined Gumisiriza in spreading word about the cause and effects of HIV/AIDS, she met a lot of public criticism. “They called me ‘HIV girl’ because I was in the company of a man who was known to be living with HIV/AIDS. Actually most of them thought I was also HIV-positive.

It took a while for me to convince them that one does not have to be HIV-positive to sensitise others about the scourge,” she says.

When she told her boyfriend about her decision to join the HIV campaign and asked him to go for a test, he declined and instead accused her of cheating on him. He even abandoned her.

Katushabe is now dedicated to counselling the community about the plight of HIV/AIDS. She encourages girls to avoid premarital sex.

“Girls are getting infected because older men who are infected, lure them by offering them material things like money and mobile phones.

These men do not use condoms. I wish every person living HIV/AIDS could be open about his/her status like Umaru Gumisiriza. I think this could reduce the rate of new infections in Uganda.”

America Amuza, 22, who is also a member of this team, says he was touched by Gumisiriza’s testimony and courage.

“His message encouraged me to live responsively and avoid bad company. I was being influenced by bad peer groups, but his constant counselling changed my way of thinking.

Every time he met me he told me to be careful. ‘Do you love your life or do you want to die in pain?’ he would ask. He told me AIDS had no cure.

He told us the only way to avoid it was to avoid sex until we marry and to test and thereafter remain faithful to our partners.”

Amuza says during his adolescent years he had multiple sexual partners and he was neither sure nor bothered about HIV/AIDS.

“When he told me he was HIV-positive, I took it as a joke and wondered how a normal person could talk so openly that he was living with HIV/AIDS.

I laughed it off but he persisted until I went for the test. After several tests, I was sure I did not have the virus and resolved to abstain.”

Journey to acceptance
After discovering he was HIV-positive, Gumisiriza decided to disclose his status because he wanted to live as an example for all.

“If the woman who infected me had disclosed her status to me, I would not have slept with her but she did not open up and consequently, I contracted the virus.

I do not want other people especially the youth to endure the trauma I endured,” he says.

Gumisiriza, 33, a mechanic in Kamwenge Town Council, says he discovered he was HIV-positive in 1999.

After a long illness, he went The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) in Mbarara for a test. “I was too weak and my CD4 cell count was very low. After a slight recovery, I was given antiretroviral t reatment.”

“I spent three years in self-denial. I hated myself, and thought about taking drugs everyday. Above all, I hated women and never thought of getting closer to any; I even chased away the one I was staying with,” he recalls.

However, in 2003, Gumisiriza went public about his status after accepting the situation and seeing many people living with HI/AIDS.

“Every time I went to the TASO clinic to get drugs, I met more than 300 people getting drugs and they looked happy and healthy. I accepted the situation and decided to open up to avoid infecting others,” he says.

Gumisiriza says disclosing his status affected his business because many people stopped bringing their cars to him for repair thinking he had run mad.

“I am glad because gradually people realised I was sane and they now give me work which has enabled me to look after myself,” he adds.

Gumisiriza has acted in a movie titled I am not Alone and written a book Okuhabura Aha Sirimu.

He wants the Government to make HIV testing compulsory and calls upon religious leaders to stop wedding couples who have not confirmed their HIV status.

I work towards an HIV free-world

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