Florence Nansubuga, 43 is all smiles. Having tested HIV positive 16 years after the death of her husband, God is still keeping her strong.
She is among the four ladies, who testify with ease how living positively means living normally.
Nansubuga a mother of three and resident of Wabigalo tells her stories with joy, of how she has managed to remain alive for 16 years.
Together with her colleagues, Nakku Florence 45, Kiberu Josephine, 40, and Nabasirye Josephine, 40, life is normal.
Nansubuga a fruit and vegetable seller in Wabigalo said she went for HIV test and counseling after her late husband fell sick in 1995. "He was sick but he declined to go for a check-up. His sickness was on and off until he was admitted in Nsambya in 1997," said Nansubuga.
She said when she realized, her husbands' sickness was deteriorating she went to Nsambya hospital for a test and realized she was HIV positive.
"I told my husband to go for a test but he declined. When I was given ARVs, he resorted to stealing them when I was asleep but his CD4 count was too low. In 1998 he passed on," she said.
The death of husband frightened her so much. "I felt life had no meaning. I was hopeless and alone. I had young children to take care off on top of paying rent," she said.
Nansubuga became so weak due to reaction of drugs. "My skin changed to purple and blue, I had rushes all over my body. My community in Wabigalo shunned me. I lost my job in town," she explained. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
"When I was told I had to get 60 injections for TB, and a consortium of tablets, I said, I would rather die. The pain was intolerable, "she reminisces. "But one lady Noelina Namukisa, a counselor at Meeting Point in Namuwongo touched my heart when she told me that being infected is not the end of the world,"
Nansubuga was among the first women including Nabasirye, Nakku and Kiberu who were started on ARVs at Meeting Point. Today, they are living to tell their story 16 years down the road.
"One time I fell so sick. I was like a TV set in the room. My son asked me if indeed God existed. He told me mum, does God exist? If you get well one day I will believe that God exists," she said of her son. The son is now a staunch born-again Christian.
Amazingly, Nansubuga has proved to her son that God exists. "After receiving intense care and treatment from Namukisa, my life started changing though I went through desperation and despair," she said.
Just like her fellow colleagues, who are now all counsellors around Kampala and Wakiso, the secret was on adherence to drugs. "When I started drugs, my CD4 count was one. Today it is 248 and I don't feel any sickness, apart from taking my drugs daily," she said. With this experience, she has told her children, majority adults now, to ensure that they remain safe from HIV/AIDS.
Nabasirye Josephine 40 a resident of Bukasa revealed to New Vision that continuous taking of drugs had kept her to tell the story 17 years down the road.
"My husband was sick (HIV positive) but he kept it to himself. I would always see him swallow medicine stealthily after supper. But shortly he died. I went for a check-up in 1996 and discovered I was HIV positive," she said. Nabasirye, a mother of three and peasant farmer has never given up the will to survive.
With her meager income from the sale of chicken and woven baskets, she is now a skilled HIV/AIDs counsellor in Bukasa.
Nakku Florence, 45 who has been on drugs for 17 years said Meeting Point project has been very instrumental in improving their lives. "The feeding and school fees given to our children enabled us to live this far due to minimum stress," she said.
Nakku said the kind heart of Noelina Namukisa, coupled with quality care, treatment, and support services to the HIV positive patients, helped them to live this long.
"Mama Noelina and the Meeting Point support towards widows, widowers and orphans, should be recommended. We would be dead," said Nabasirye.
Namukisa said she resorted to helping HIV/AIDS patients in the slums of Soweto in Namuwongo after the number of death due to AIDs shot up in the early 90s.
"People were dying every day. I decided to offer moral support by visiting them. With well-wishers coming on board, we started providing ARVs," she said.
Namukisa said to-date; the center takes care of over 1500 people living with HIV/AIDS, majority orphans as young as two months old.