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AIDS in Uganda

To look at ways in which local NGOs in Uganda are responding to HIV & AIDS and prejudices against people with disabilities.

by Kate Andréo

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To look at ways in which local NGOs in Uganda are responding to HIV & AIDS and prejudices against people with disabilities.

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly tells of two local NGOs at work with people with HIV & AIDS in Uganda: Butembe Women with Disabilities Development Organization (BUWEDDA) and Education of Disabled Children Organization (EDICO).
  • Music suggestion: ‘My Little Tune’ by Joni Eareckson, on the album Joni’s Song: the Christian author sings about her relationship to her disability and God. Or ‘Spirit Wings’ by Joni Eareckson. Both are available to download.
  • You might like to rehearse readers for various sections of this assembly, particularly the information at the beginning. You might need to edit down the opening information according to your students.
  • The primary source for this assembly is http://www.feedtheminds.org – more information can be found on their website.
  • Other resources: Development in Disability: The Uganda Experience, Maria Kangere (2003); Chronic Poverty and Disability in Uganda, Charles Lwanga-Ntale (2003); World Health Organization statistics.

Assembly

  1. Background information on Uganda: population 33 million; 45% are below the poverty line; life expectancy is 50 years; HIV & AIDS prevalence among 15 to 49 year olds is 6.4%; Human Development Index (HDI) ranking: 154/177.
  2. Politics: The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. It has seen some severe political disruption and violence in its recent past, including the reigns of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Amin’s reign alone cost the lives of over 300,000 Ugandans (1% of the population). President Museveni is currently in power. His reign has been relatively peaceful, although he has had to deal with the ongoing and protracted civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has lasted over 20 years. The peace process is still volatile. Two of the main problems caused by the LRA has been the abduction of children to use them as soldiers, and the displacement of people whose villages have been raided.
  3. Economy: Uganda has experienced significant economic growth for over a decade and poverty has decreased substantially. Nevertheless, Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world with per capita income of around $385 per annum.
  4. Uganda and HIV & AIDS: Uganda, one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to experience the devastating impact of HIV & AIDS and to take action to control the epidemic, is one of the rare success stories in a region that has been ravaged by the HIV & AIDS epidemic. While the rate of new infections continues to increase in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has succeeded in lowering its very high infection rates. Museveni’s government has created and implemented comprehensive policies that dramatically slowed the rate of new infections. It has been estimated that in the early 1990s the HIV prevalence stood at 18.5%; by 2002 it had declined to 5%.

    One innovation was the launch in 1997 of same-day voluntary counselling and testing services. Up till then, clients had to wait two weeks for their HIV test results and up to 30% failed to return to collect them. Despite the success, over 1.5 million children have been orphaned since the epidemic began, losing their mother or both parents to AIDS.
  5. Disabilities in Uganda: There are approximately 2.4 million disabled persons in Uganda, although other estimates suggest even larger numbers. Disabled people in Uganda, like in most developing countries in the world, face extreme conditions of poverty. They have limited opportunities for accessing education, health, suitable housing and employment. In most cases persons with disabilities are not aware of their rights and potentials. Disabled people are not only among the poorest of the poor in the country, they remain poor for very long periods of time, and from generation to generation. Their situation is made worse by outright social exclusion that constrains disabled people’s participation in the job market.
  6. The link between disabilities and HIV & AIDS: Many people with disabilities do not have proper access to health education, or do not receive accurate health advice. They are often stigmatized and health officials may not want to deal with them because of prejudice. There are beliefs and myths that someone with HIV & AIDS can be cured by sleeping with a disabled person, which means that disabled women are often sexually abused and contract HIV & AIDS or fall pregnant. Many people with disabilities (up to 75%) are unaware of the causes and prevention for HIV & AIDS, or of their rights.
  7. The Butembe Women with Disabilities Development Organization is an NGO working with the Butembe people in Uganda. The project is called the Family Life Education Programme and its aim is to improve the reproductive health of rural disabled women and develop a positive attitude in health workers towards pregnant disabled women. The project has done this by training HIV & AIDS peer counsellors, through community sensitization meetings, the launching of an HIV & AIDS campaign for rural disabled women, and by providing counselling and HIV testing. Radio talk shows have also been broadcast to raise awareness about these issues.

    The project has impacted the lives of 320 disabled women, 400 disabled girls (aged 10–20 years) and 200 children (up to age 10). The family members and the health workers of these women and girls have also benefited from the programme. Disabled women now have control over their sexual life, have stable partners and have children they can take care of. Health workers understand the challenges of disabled women and are willing to assist them. They also use positive language and treat them equally. An increased number of disabled women have access to health information and know how to avoid infections, as well as where to get treatment from. Women are able to earn some income on a daily basis. Many engage themselves in income-generating activities.
  8. The Education of Disabled Children Organization is another local NGO working specifically with children on this issue. It is working to reduce the vulnerability of adolescents with disabilities to contracting HIV & AIDS, and to challenge societal attitudes and practices that expose them to rights violations such as sexual abuse and exploitation. Project activities include counselling and health education sessions; distribution of disability-specific information, education and communication on reproductive health and HIV & AIDS issues; formation of youth groups to enhance information and experience-sharing; and broadcasting of radio talk shows to provide a platform for reaching a broader audience with messages related to the programme themes.

    The project has impacted the lives of 70 adolescents with disabilities aged 10–24, in and out of school, 30 parents, and local leadership. Individual adolescents with disabilities are empowered and able to make healthy choices, and a marked change in young people with disabilities has been noticed in their behaviour and attitudes towards life. Furthermore, the link between reproductive health and HIV & AIDS has been made, which means that service providers are able to offer a more effective service delivery to adolescents with disabilities.
  9. Both of these projects show how working together with those affected is an important part in tackling problems such as HIV & AIDS and living with a disability. Prejudices and false beliefs must also be challenged and replaced with a real understanding of people’s lives and situations. Both organizations have shown that through health education, participation and trust, people with disabilities in Uganda can be empowered and set free from the social exclusion that they were previously living with.

Time for reflection

What can we change in our attitudes towards people with disabilities?

How would you feel if you couldn’t walk, or talk, or hear? How would you want other people to act towards you?

What do you think about the participative model that these NGOs use in dealing with the problems faced by local populations? Can you think of any problems here in the UK that could be dealt with in a similar manner?

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the life that you have given us,

and for the fact that you have made each and every one of us.

Thank you that you love us just as we are.

We pray for people living with disabilities,

or with terminal illnesses, including HIV & AIDS,

that they too may know your love.

Help us to love them and act for them in a loving way.

Amen.

Hymn

‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)

Publication date: February 2010   (Vol.12 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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