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Fighting HIV stigma through beauty pageantry

Babirye decries the fact that there are so many young people who have been denied opportunity because of their HIV status. “A child is given their own desk simply because of their status. So many young people have dropped out of school,” she states.

As an ambassador, Babirye cites the many scenarios of stigma especially those that target women. “We still have health workers who deny young women the right to have normal delivery. They will tell them to have C-section.”

“We want to be seen as normal young people.  The only difference is that we are young people living with HIV/AIDS,” Babirye asserts.

“From five years ago I can say a lot has changed. I cannot say the stigma has ended but there’s a big difference. Young people have embraced this contest.” Babirye says.

The auditions for the Y+ pageant usually begin in July and the grand finale takes place in November. Rio Babirye, a program officer and in-charge of Public Relations at UNYPA says partners of UNYPA in the Y+ pageant are Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), AIDS FOND, UN Women, UNICEF, UNAIDS, The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), AIDS Healthcare Foundation; the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world.

Dr. Stephen Watiiti, the chairman of the National Forum for People Living with HIV/AIDS Network in Uganda-(NAFOPHANU) says there are over 1.3 million Ugandans living with HIV and has called for an end to the prejudice toward them.

“Being HIV positive does not make you a bad person. These days people with HIV are living longer,” Dr. Watiiti who is open about his HIV status said last September at a meeting organised by UGANET.

However the battle against discrimination is far from over even as the world marks Zero Discrimination Day.

Stigma by law enforcement

Last year, Sylvia Komuhangi, a teacher, was charged with committing a “negligent act likely to spread disease contrary to Section 171 of the Penal Code Act of the Republic of Uganda”.

She was arrested in December 2018 in Kitgum after she was accused falsely of spreading HIV to a toddler.

Komuhangi was convicted on the charge by the Magistrates Court in Kitgum. By the time, UGANET came to her rescue, she had spent several months in jail after her conviction.

While in prison, she was tested against her will and found to be HIV positive. Her status fast-tracked her conviction in the courts of law.

UGANET lawyers appealed her case at the Gulu High Court and her conviction was overturned in August 2019.  The High Court rebuked the lower court for presiding over a sham trial. The case was hailed as an example of the unending stigma HIV positive person face.

A petition challenging two clauses of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2014 that engender discrimination is still lodged in the Constitutional Court.

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