25 January 2009

Uganda: Journalists Living With HIV/Aids Establish Network

Kampala — Over 8,000 people worldwide die of HIV/AIDS daily. UNAIDS estimates that there are now 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS, including 2.5million children.

The epidemic is increasing. During 2007, some 2.5million people were living with the virus. A total of 95% of these people live in developing nations.

It is against this background that scribes living with HIV/AIDS in the region established a network of Journalists Living with HIV/AIDS (JLWHA). The purpose is to collectively promote a vibrant media fully engaged in the response to HIV/AIDS.

The week-long meeting attracted journalists living with HIV/AIDS from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. They shared their experiences as victims of the AIDS scourge and described the devastating effect of the disease upon themselves.

The journalists resolved to put journalistic living with HIV/AIDS at the centre of the fight since they had a story to tell everyday of their lives.

They said they want to be at the forefront of the fight and publicly give testimonies regarding their status.

They also vowed to sensitise more journalists on issues of care, protection, support and treatment.

They also want to influence the media to publish more stories on the pandemic.

The scribes' love for their countries is evident in their publications and public declaration about their status.

Musengeri narrated how, in the beginning, he was in shock, angry, heartbroken and filled with grief and hopelessness. Eventually he learnt to accept the fact that he was HIV-positive and decided to take action.

Once he had accepted the truth, he expected everyone else to accept it. He was wrong. Instead, he received rejection, isolation and humiliation.

His employers withdrew his retainer fee and ordered him to hand over all the company property.

Today, Musengeri has taken to "preaching" to the whole district of Busia where he is a community mobiliser. He preaches compassion, dignity, courage, love, awareness of risks, the need for unity between people living with HIV/AIDS and the promise of hope.

"In doing this, I want others to realise that HIV can infect any human being and those it chooses are not somehow less human. I want to tell the world that I am not a victim but rather a messenger of hope," he says.

Evelyn Simaloy from Kenya discovered her HIV status in 1999. She had turned to commercial sex to pay her school fees. Today, she is an activist in her country.

EremeyasMekonon wanted to take a lead and make a difference in his area after seeing the epidemic destroying his fellow Ethiopians. He fought a tough battle and he narrates an incident when his wife became a victim of a rapist who removed her right eye.

His wife's cry of: " No! No! I am HIV-positive, please leave me," did not stop the rapist from grabbing her neck and throwing her onto the bed, raping her and afterwards sticking his fingers and pulling out her eyes.

Tamerat narrated how in Ethiopia they had no facilities to carry out tests. The well-to-do had to go abroad for testing.

He says the only messages in the media were: "AIDS kills and the moment you get it you are finished, you will die." Such kind of messages made people afraid to take the tests.

"I tried to fight these messages and the government was not willing to take my advice. I was determined to go on with my campaign since it was I with the problem," he says.

As for me, some of the reasons for going public about my condition were altruistic, others selfish. I wanted to give a face to HIV, especially among professionals, to let them know that with good care, love and antiretroviral drugs, one can still enjoy a good degree of health and even continue practicing their profession.

The testimonies went a long way in confirming that the journalists are ready to lead and expound on the HIV messages of treatment, care and prevention.

While inaugurating the network, Panos Eastern Africa Regional programme coordinator, Paul Banoba, said the workshop was to provide closer focus on the organisation's response to HIV/AIDS.

He said the network would help ensure expanded and informed coverage on HIV/AIDS issues, and also see how journalists can use the media.

Luther Anukur, the executive director Panos, officiated at the workshop's closing ceremony.

He said success will be achieved when HIV positive scribes take the lead in the fight.

"The network is timely and gives a very strong foundation for advocacy," he said.

"Media is the single most powerful tool because it influences attitudes, behaviour, opinion and decision. Positive journalists should be involved in planning and implementation of programmes if we are to win the battle," he said.

Key Points:

The journalists aim to work together on regional initiatives to promote a vibrant media fully engaged in the response to HIV/AIDS.

The first meetings were held between November 27 and December 1 at Masai Maraa Lodge in Nairobi, Kenya.

Regions represented were Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Panos Eastern Africa,is working to support the establishment of a network.

Members present: Elvis Basudde and David Musengeri - Uganda, Evelyn Simaloy and Lucy Maroncha - Kenya, Ermeyas Mekonon and Tamerat Yemane - Ethiopia and Zephania Musendo - Tanzania.

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