A couple of days ago I learned about yet another Ugandan young man in his 20s who had died in Mulago Hospital. I didn’t know him but he was called Henry Lugoloobi, and was popularly known as ‘Junior.’ Reports reaching me suggest that he, too, succumbed to HIV/Aids complications.
You might recall that barely ten days ago, we attended the funeral of a young man, Abby Mukasa (Love) who had lost his fight with HIV/Aids at just 27.
We might be seeing the tip of the iceberg in these cases.
The incidence and spread of HIV/Aids in the gay community in Uganda continues to be the elephant in the room that, if not addressed with the seriousness it deserves, will have far-reaching consequences on the gay community … and ultimately the entire country.
This is one area, though, where everyone has to play a part, not just activists.
We all know how HIV/Aids spreads. We know that unprotected sex especially puts one at risk. In Uganda, one hears of horror stories of young men having impromptu sex in bar toilets and all these seedy places (it is never clean, nice places, is it? Not that the venue makes a difference but there you have it) they meet. Yet, it is also true that gay boys are not showing much interest in health programs or adherence to using condoms.
The message, thus, needs to be blunt:
Activists can’t hold everyone’s hand; it is for grown-up people to wake up, smell the coffee and take control of their own lives.
Yes, ARVs now help HIV/Aids sufferers live long fruitful lives and HIV is no longer the sure death sentence it used to be 25 years ago – if you are a government minister or have tons of money to pay for your medication and care.
But if you are a struggling 20-something man out of Kampala’s slum areas, with a so-so education and dreadful work prospects, please remember that you live in a banana republic where social attitudes are as Neanderthal as medical facilities are medieval. If your ass is broke, which is the case for most of you young men having raw sex in toilets and dark alleys after one bottle of beer that you couldn’t afford, you are likely going to catch something lethal.
Then you will eventually end up at Mulago Hospital in a filthy, smelly, mosquito-infested ward where all the poor go to die because that is how the poor in Uganda die.
One or two of your relatives might eventually show up at your bedside and give some token help of fruit juices you can no longer hold down and platitudes. But it will be too late because you will have wasted a lot of critical intervention time, refusing to be tested, refusing to accept the test results, or pretending that you are fabulous and all you are suffering from is malaria.
The terrible conditions at Mulago, the lack of support from your relatives and the attendant lack of money to meet your medical needs will cut your already frail immune system tenfold. Then you will slip away, leaving behind a motley crew of shocked gay friends who will not know how to tell the world that you died of a preventable, manageable, sexually transmitted disease.
Finally, your embarrassed relatives will pretend to the world that they did all they could for you. One of them will announce to the mourners at your freshly filled grave that you were much-loved, you had a child (whom no one will have heard of until then), they did what they could for you but the Lord had other plans in the brain fever that you died of. And that will be it.
As the mourners walk away, one of your friends will ruefully remark about how the festivities to put your body into the ground cost twice as much money as was needed to provide you with the medical care that you never got.
Your fate is in your hands guys. Get tested to know your status.
And put a condom on it.