Turns out taking HIV drugs is cool

KAMPALA, UGANDA — In May, a Ugandan woman uploaded a video to Facebook that went viral. She was taking drugs at a party. They were antiretrovirals and she was urging her HIV-positive peers to take their medicines properly, even while they were enjoying life.

Sarah Aporo, an HIV-positive 22-year-old decided to share her experience taking her daily medications—the drugs HIV-positive people take to prolong their lives, keep them healthy and greatly lower their chance of infecting others.

interview, Sarah Aporo, HIV

A screen shot from an interview with NTV. Used with permission.

After receiving positive feedback on Facebook, NileTV Uganda reached out to her to do an interview and she was further able to spread her message to the youth of Uganda.

“By sharing my story that I am positive, many people could learn and take caution to do testing for HIV before going intimate with a partner,” she says. “Sharing my story has helped me to live freely with my virus and fight stigma and what people think about those living with HIV.”

Sarah stressed the value of education during this process.

“Sometimes I imagine if I were not educated and thus had no knowledge about dealing with HIV, what could I have done?” she says. “I would have probably thought of suicide rather than seeking for medication.”

Young people (10 to 24 years) and particularly young women continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people in Africa and second leading cause globally, according to a report by AVERT, a charity that has been providing HIV/AIDS information since the start of the epidemic.

The high prevalence of HIV among youth in Uganda is inspiring young people across the country to create programs and initiatives in hopes to educate their peers, encourage safe practices and end HIV.

Lack of education continues to be a leading factor in contracting HIV. Young people like Sarah are aware of this and know how they want and need to be reached, so some are taking matters into their own hands.

The Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) is a youth-led, youth-serving organization that advocates for improved sexual health care services, human rights promotion, gender equality and youth livelihood.

Patrick Mwesigye, team leader of UYAHF, says one of their main missions is based around increased contraceptive access and education.

“We encourage young people to stock (condoms),” he says. “Because in most cases when they have, they use, and when they don’t have they don’t use, even when they want to use.”

In 2015, their team launched the “Pulani Ki?” program meaning, “What’s Your Plan?” The program focuses on contraceptive use and breaking the stigma associated with using contraceptives.

Patrick and his team reach young people in their area by throwing “condom parties.” They go to clubs, bars and other areas that host their targeted age group, distribute condoms and pass on information about both male and female condoms.

UYAHF and other non-government organizations have started educating and sharing prevention messages through arts like music, dance, comedy and games.

Arthur Mugenyi, the national coordinator for Youth With A Vision Uganda (YWAV), a youth-based organization aimed to defend and advocate for the rights of disadvantaged young people, says getting young people together in groups is a good way to reach and engage the youth.

“It seems that engaging young people in activities they enjoy improves how receptive they are to certain messages,” says Arthur. “It creates a positive and supportive community which is important for vulnerable youth.”