While growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there seemed to be a catastrophic life-sucking demon that we all dreaded!
This would rob every ounce of energy from a once-vigorous body and leave it just with a bag of bones, leaving the victim coughing blood and releasing watery waste.
This was a disease that was sung about everywhere – on radio, in newspapers and on UTV. It was the killer disease of our time.
Unlike in the 1980s and early 1990s when the disease was still a mystery and believed to have dropped bodies like no other before, we knew what we were dealing with. The virus’ wrath had clearly been spelt out and everyone watched out for their lives.
Every drama on radio was about HIV/Aids. There were skits and books to the same effect. Most visitors we received at school talked about Aids, be it whites, Chinese, or fellow Ugandans from the Aids Information Centre and Uganda Red Cross.
They would tell us about the rampant disease and how it had killed millions of young people in the country.
Thanks to the lethal invasion of this virus, the country’s life expectancy stood at 46 years. These were terrible times to live as young men and women in school. We would not share any razor blades, needles or other sharp objects.
In the mid and late 2000s, people changed lifestyles and the disease became manageable. Prevalence rates were reported to have dropped significantly.
The country had started taking a different turn. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for everyone who tested positive were introduced. These helped a lot to keep infected people in great shape.
People started leaving comfortable lives. Anti-stigma campaigns were widespread and professional counselors encouraged victims to live positively.
What had made HIV stand out in the 1990s was its symptoms! The disease was brutal that it would suck life out of an individual and they would look out of place.
The blood that one would cough, the unbearable diarrhoea, the sunken haggard eyes and rapid hair loss all made one dread the disease.
These ugly symptoms played a big role in reminding people, especially the young ones, to watch out. The stigma was high that you would risk being an outcast if you were careless enough to contract the disease.
The ARVs made life a lot easier. HIV was now seen as any normal disease. Today, a good percentage of the infected people are on medication.
Unfortunately, government seems to have concentrated on caring for the sick population and forgot to prevent more people from catching the virus.
This is why there are 52,000 new infections every year (UNAids) and if there is no serious intervention, the projected annual infections will be 340,500 by 2025. The country’s goal is that by 2030, we should be an HIV-free country.
But how is this going to happen when the killer disease is silently making leaps and bounds again. Today, at least 1.4 million people live with HIV/Aids in Uganda.
It’s highly unlikely that you are going to find a single drama on radio calling for prevention of HIV. The literature that we used to read about this disease such as Lillian Tindyebwa’s Recipe for Disaster is all gone.
These were amazing works that kept our eyes open. We might not have had huge billboards like we have today, but still there were numerous channels of awareness.
Today, there is much fear for pregnancies among youths than there is for HIV. Condom use has drastically fallen with a study by Avert indicating that by 2013, condom use had fallen to 54 per cent from 71 per cent in 2011.
With the national prevalence rate at six per cent, southwestern Uganda at eight per cent and Ntungamo district at 8.2 per cent and highway towns at an average of 10.8 per cent, Uganda’s HIV status leaves a lot to be desired. We might not be any better than the 1990s after all!
The author is the communications assistant, Uganda Red Cross.