Clever Murisa 17 (not real names) is one of the many HIV positive orphans in the country.
Murisa who lost his parents to Aids five years ago says that ever since his parents died he has been abandoned by his relatives because of the chronic coughs he has had since childhood.
“Since childhood I have always coughed. I used to live with my mother but she did not discriminate against me like some people who say that I have tuberculosis.
My parents died of Aids and they did not show me any of my relatives because they themselves were discriminated against because of the disease,” says Murisa.
Murisa now lives with friends to his late parents whom he says take him like their own and do not show any discrimination.
They take care of him and other orphans at Gwiza home in Nyagasambi.
John Twagira the founder of Gwiza home has no kind words for people who discriminate against the sick since everyone is capable of falling sick to this disease.
“I do not discriminate against any of the children at Gwiza home. All children are the same and it’s bad to discriminate against any one,” he says.
Twagira is trying to get people who have a passion of taking care of children living with HIV especially from the Catholic convents and churches that will not show any segregation among them.
He says that Gwiza home has some HIV positive children but caretakers try not to reveal their status and no child knows about others’ status even when signs of the disease show on some of the children.
Dr Felix Nyakwera, the executive secretary of Amagara n’Ubuzima (Health is Life) Programme based in Kamonyi in Gitarama says that life is in the hands of the beholder.
Whoever is sick should have a positive attitude towards treatment for a better health and to stop isolating themselves.
“As a doctor, I have all the records of those who come for HIV tests however this does not call for discrimination amongst them,” says Nyakwera.
Joel Sebucaca, the director of health services at Gitarama hospital in Muhanga District says that there should not be any form of discrimination among people especially in our country when we are still struggling with the effects of the Genocide.
“Girls and women were raped and some contracted HIV, those people need love, comfort and care instead of them being discriminated against or isolated.
Such victims should be showed enough compassion and love,” Sebucaca says.
According to Sebucaca, the health personnel at Gitarama hospital are committed to ensuring that no worker is discriminated against on the basis of real or perceived HIV status.
“Stigma and discrimination thrive in a climate of silence; we need to speak about HIV in places of work, at home, in schools and in our daily lives if we are to successfully challenge the foolishness that brings with it discrimination of any kind,” says Sebucaca.
He adds that since the coming of Anti-retroviral therapy, there has been a measure to combat stigma and discrimination.
The medical model which sees HIV as a clinical issue rather than as a social one tends to dominate in most of the hospitals in our country.
The doctor explains that to those who are infected are treated with extra care and are provided with ARVs and this remains a secret within the medical staff and administration.
“Discrimination reduces the efforts aimed at promoting the prevention of HIV and to successfully implement any Aids programmes and policies requires cooperation and trust between employers, workers, their representatives and the health ministries,” he says.
Abraham Musonera, an HIV victim and a fruit seller at Nyamirambo market says that most of his friends who know that he is HIV positive do not segregate him and that gives him a reason to live.
“Though I am HIV positive, the people with whom I work treat me well, they never discriminate against me, they even send customers to buy from me because they know and believe that I need money to feed well in order to live longer, though they make fun of me never mention anything about my HIV status,” he says.
Disclose HIV status
Fesias Gaga, an employer at Great tidings in Kacyiru says there is no justification in compelling job applicants or workers to disclose their HIV status and other related personal information about fellow workers.
“Access to personal data relating to a worker’s HIV status should be bound by rules of confidentiality, consistent with the regulations of practice on protection of workers’ personal data,” he says.
Gaga adds that all workers including the HIV positive are entitled to affordable health care and they should not be discriminated against nor should their dependants be especially during access to benefits from health associations.
Gorrette Mukankusi, a counsellor with Twajje women’s group in Gitarama says that the stigma and discrimination campaign is a first step towards changing public perceptions and attitudes towards HIV/Aids scourge, while empowering people who live with HIV to do so without fear of rejection or of prejudice.