Patients being tested from Yoyo Health Centre (photo by RMF)
Many people living with HIV resist telling their life experience after contraction, while others develop drug resistance due to worries on how to survive on the medication without support.
The dreams and visions were endless when South Sudan achieved independence in 2011, but after just a few years, a power struggle broke out between the country’s most powerful men. Today raw violence, liquidation, rape and burnt down houses have driven almost two million people to flee inside the country’s boarders while 1.5 million people have fled from the country. Most of them to Uganda that stands ready with open arms. While other countries close their boarders and try to keep refugees out, Uganda, despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, keeps its boarders open.
Then The United Nations (UN) system and other donors moved in with help and support.
The UN’s refugee organization body entrusted with refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOS) such as the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have supported refugees through establishing roads, health centers and other infrastructures for refugees who would need special attention, among them were HIV-positive clients who needed endless livelong support to sustain for their well-being and stay in Uganda..
n 2017, the HIV prevalence in Uganda was estimated at 1.3 million people living with HIV//AIDs according to World Health Organization (WHO) and an estimated 26,000 Ugandans suffering AIDs- related illness, according to the World Health Organization. However, even the refugees staying in the country have not been spared, and some too are living with HIV. According to UNHCR, cumulatively 15,668 refugees are infected in all the refugee settlements in Uganda in 2017
In Bidibidi refugee settlement that has a population of 227,000 refugees from South Sudan, 1.1 percent of those who tested for HIV turned out positive, according to UNHCR report http://twine.unhcr.org/ar2017/ in 2017. Bidibidi refugee settlement was opened on Aug. 5, -2016 by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Real Medicine Foundation (RMF), UNHCR, and other agencies. It is located near the South Sudanese boarder in Yumbe district of Uganda’s West Nile Uganda and has a capacity of supporting 227,000 refuge
In September 2018, 270 refugees were living with HIV in Zone one in Bidibidi, and there has been an estimated report of 15 percent increase in HIV infections among South Sudanese refugees http://twine.unhcr.org/ar2018/ according to 2017 UNHCR health report
Doctor Boniface Olol, who is laboratory doctor and antiretroviral therapist (ART) at Yoyo Health Center III zone three stated that 70 percent of those who have tested positive are women. He attributed this discrepancy to high numbers of men who do not want to test for HIV, thus having it and spreading it to the women without being recorded in the health system or receiving treatment.
Since the beginning of 2019, 2,199 refugees who tested for HIV at Yoyo Health Center III, including both male and female of which less than 1 percent were found positive. This is a clear indication that the number of those living with HIV in the settlement is reducing, according to doctor Boniface Olol.
The doctors said that due to the many movements among the South Sudanese, it is difficult to tell if one contracted the virus from Uganda or South Sudan until an individual shares his or her own story on how he or she contracted the virus, according to counselor Patricia Yoyo Health Center III in zone three.
Counsellor Patricia says the only way to confirm one has HIV/AIDs is through testing.
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be living with HIV/AIDs. Ultimately everyone’s lives are different and, how one copes with diagnosis and how one moves forward will be unique. Charity, a 30-year- old refugee in Bidibidi (who did not disclose her full name due to the sensitivity of her condition), shared her personal life experience after she contracted HIV.
“I contracted HIV from South Sudan in 2010 after getting married. My husband had five wives, and I was the first wife to contract the disease. I had a dream of giving birth to ten children whom I would call my brothers and sisters since I had no parents, only to discover I was sick on my sixth pregnancy, thus my dream was shattered,” Charity said.. “I thought of committing suicide after discovering I was sick, but I could not since my children would be left with no one. When I resettled in Uganda, my hopes of living were high due to the peace and care I received.”
However, Charity said that she still faces many challenges, including lack of food that makes side effects of medication worse when one takes it on an empty stomach.
Along with inadequate food, HIV clients in Bidibidi face other challenges including starvation, lack of basic necessities and other support such as programs that can enhance their livelihoods among others that came with the rise of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and UNHCR scandal in 2018 where government officials over saw the camp was accused and were found to have vastly inflated the number of refugees coming into the country. After this scandal, several major donors to Uganda’s refugee program decided to withhold funding until they were able to verify the numbers, said the former UNHCR spokeswoman Teresa Ongalo last year in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. However, this has meant that the 2019 budget for refugees was only 57 percent funded, meaning many programs were reduced, according to figures by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). During June 7.
“In the past, patients used to receive more services like food, but now they only get drugs” said counselor Ronald Injiku, he attributed that the only care health staff can provide is to sensitize about HIV in the communities as well as provide some care to the affected, which is not enough without supporting them with food while on medication.
Counsellor Ronald Injiku shares more on this
HIV patients gain hope amidst challenges [photo by RMF]
According to counselor Patricia from Yoyo Health Ccenter III zone three, health center staff also struggle to follow up HIV-positive refugees from Yoyo since there are mobile movements often from one zone to another and food.
Many HIV patients in Bidibidi are facing a lot of challenges with their medication. Counsellor Patricia shares more on the unique challenges faced by HIV-positive refugees
“Learning that you are HIV positive can be one of the most difficult experiences you go through in life. You feel scared, sad or even angry which is completely a natural part of coping with something that can be life changing. HIV doesn’t have to stop one living a long, happy and fulfilling life. With the right treatment and supporting, it is possible to live as long as the average person”.said Chandiga (who didnot disclose his full name due to his sensitive condition) an HIV client in Bidibidi