29 October 2002

Uganda: Patients Storm HIV/Aids Conference

Kampala — Their anger turned into cheers when Premier Apolo Nsibambi warned against discrimination and said the Government "wants anti-retroviral drugs for everyone who needs them in every village and locality."

Yesterday, about 30 men and women living with HIV/AIDS, smuggled a demonstration into the International Conference Centre as the National AIDS Conference opened.

They suddenly burst into song and waved placards when their representative, Agnes Nyamayarwo, took to the podium to address 1,600 delegates from Uganda and beyond.

"We are the ones, we are the people. We are the ones to defeat HIV and AIDS," they chorused.

As Nyamayarwo spoke, they kept shouting out messages like, "Give us drugs", "Our people are dying", "We are people like you", "HIV can get you too" and "Stop discriminating against us."

The group of The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) clients, had entered quietly and taken up strategic seats, waiting for the right moment to protest what they called an unfair living environment.

President Yoweri Museveni, in a speech read by Nsibambi, said openness and concerted effort had brought down HIV infection rates, "but we are now at crossroads. What we have achieved is commendable but not sufficient."

Museveni urged Ugandans to work harder rather than sit back to enjoy past achievements against HIV/AIDS. He urged teachers to regularly address their pupils on HIV/AIDS, using guidelines the Ministry of Education is about to publish.

Nsibambi, who said he recently re-tested HIV negative, urged Ugandans to keep monitoring their HIV status by taking tests periodically.

The Minister for the Presidency, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, said despair and anger among people living with HIV would soon be history because the Government was planning to treat all AIDS patients.

Nyamayarwo thanked the Government for its effort to reduce HIV infection and to make the drugs cheaper. However, she decried discrimination and stigmatisation against people living with HIV, as well as failure to give them life-prolonging drugs.

As she lashed out at thieves who stole drugs meant for AIDS victims, the TASO clients shouted, "arrest them, crucify them."

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