By Chris Kiwawulo
This year, to commemorate the World AIDS Day, on December 1, The New Vision, in conjunction with the parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDs, will award individuals, who have played a remarkable role in the fight against HIV in their communities. Profiles of the people nominated by the public will be published everyday until the end of November.
TWENTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD, Ruth Namakula, survived death three months ago. The resident of Bukulugi zone in Masanafu, Rubaga Division, fell so ill that she could not walk, talk or eat. She discovered she was HIV-positive in 2007 but had ignored drugs.
Her CD4 count had dropped to 3.
Namakulaâ€™s husband, Isaac Ssegujja, had died of HIV in 2001. Her death would render her three children total orphans.
However, Namakulaâ€™s life was eventually salvaged when Nalongo Paula Tumubweine, 54, offered a helping hand and took her to Mulago Hospital for treatment. Initially, the doctors prescribed septrin for her and antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) thereafter.
At first, Namakula vomited so much that no one thought she would survive. Fortunately, she did. Although Namakula still has a skin rash, she is grateful that Tumubweine saved her life.
â€œI was about to die when Nalongo came to my rescue. At least I will live a little longer and look after my children. I am so grateful to her. I hope I will be fine,â€ says Namakula as she scratches an itchy rash on her hand.
Several other women in Masanafu look at Tumubweine as a heroine. Tumubweine, who is HIV-positive, has encouraged hundreds of women in her area to test and know their status.
She also counsels those, who test positive and encourages them to go to The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) centre at Mulago Hospital to secure ARVs.
Tumubweine is a member of TASO. This gives her the leverage to easily access doctors on behalf of her community.
Tumubweineâ€™s husband, Laurien Tumuheirwe, who was an accountant with Banyankole Kweterana Cooperative Union in Mbarara, died in October 1990.
Three years later, Tumubweine tested for HIV and discovered she was positive.She tried to keep quiet but she could not suppress it for long.
In 2002, Tumubweine declared her status to the public: â€œI first announced my status on radio in Rukungiri. Thereafter, I started counselling and sensitising people on HIV/AIDS. I was the first woman in the district to publicly declare my status.â€
Tumubweine carries out counselling in schools, churches, seminars and community gatherings. Before announcing her sero status, Tumubweine got entangled in a dilemma, where her brothers-in-law demanded that she marries one of them since their brother had died.
â€œOur culture dictates that when a man dies, one of his brothers has to inherit the wife,â€ they argued. She adds: â€œI rejected their suggestion. I told them I was HIV-positive. I looked healthy so they did not believe me. They thought I was deceiving them.â€
Tumubweine had four children with her husband, but as fate would have it, only the last born, who is 16 years old, is still living.
The boy, who is in Senior Five at Kasubi Secondary School, is also HIV-positive. Tumubweine lost her first born twins and their follower between 1985 and 1988.
â€œThey died between the age of one and four. I suspect they died of HIV though I did not test them. Even my two co-wives and their children died.â€
Despite all this loss, Tumubweineâ€™s brothers-in-law continued demanding her to marry one of them, arguing that their brother had paid dowry.
She was forced to flee when her in-laws started mistreating her because she had rejected their proposal. â€œIn 1993, I joined my sister, Priscilla Rwakeisho Tuhirirwe, in Rukungiri town, where I stayed for 10 years.â€
While there, Tumubweine became a full-time HIV/AIDS activist. When she knew her sero status, Tumubweine quit her charcoal selling business, saying it would expose her to tuberculosis.
In 2003, she moved to Masanafu to look after her ailing mother, Malisera Bakeine. Unfortunately, Bakeine passed on last month.
This distressed her so much that when she tested her CD4 count recently, it had reduced to 130 from 439 in 2005. â€œI have been using Septrin since 2005. When doctors discovered that my CD4 count had dropped, they prescribed ARVs.â€
The third-born in a family of five, Tumubweine went to Kayungwe and Nyakabungo primary schools in Rugyeyo sub-county in Rukungiri district.
As she prepared to join secondary school in 1975, her father, Amando Owarwe, passed away. This, she sadly reminisces, was the end of her academic career.
â€œI stayed with my mother but she could not raise my fees.â€ Currently, Tumubweine stays in her late motherâ€™s house in Masanafu, where she is looking after her nephew, Dan Mugabi, and an orphan, Dorcus Asiimwe, whom she picked from Bushenyi.
She is also looking after a six-year-old girl, Nyensi Mpirirwe, who was abandoned by a housegirl at her motherâ€™s home.
With the sh300,000 she gets from letting the boysâ€™ quarters and support from well-wishers, Tumubweine has supported the three for four years now.
Asiimwe says: â€œShe is my mother and father. She has helped me to learn tailoring though I have not yet got a sewing machine.â€ Besides looking after Asiimwe, Tumubweine also pays school fees for Mpirirwe.
â€œShe is a very good and exemplary woman. She has helped several women to live positively. What is amazing is that she has never been bedridden. She only gets minor illnesses like flu, which heal fast. In fact some people think she is not HIV-positive,â€ observes Loy Tushabe, a neighbour.
Tushabe, a former soldier and the district councillor for Ssi sub-county in Mukono, says Tumubweine should be supported to enable her extend help to more people.
She is the chairperson of people living positively in Masanafu under their umbrella organisation, Masanafu Women in Development Agency (MWODEA).
Formed in 2002 with its offices in Lusaze, MWODEA aims at improving the environmental health of the urban poor and vulnerable groups through advocacy, capacity building and collaboration.
Tumubweine joined MWODEA a year after its formation when she went to Masanafu to look after her sick mother.
Besides MWODEA, Tumubweine has a dream of setting up an income-generating project, through which she will empower HIV patients in Masanafu and neighbouring communities.
Do you know anyone who has played an important role in the fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities? Nominate the person, indicating name, phone contact and what the person has done in his/her community to help people prevent HIV infection. Also give your name and phone number. Write to: The Features Editor, The New Vision, P.O Box 9815, Kampala. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org