AIDS pageant in Uganda seeks to stem stigma, discrimination

    AIDS pageant in Uganda seeks to stem stigma, discrimination

    Sept.25, Kampala: When she was younger, Tryphena Natukunda's mother discouraged her from swallowing her antiretroviral medicines among strangers or even distant relatives.

    Because the girl had AIDS, which can fuel stigmatization and invite harsh judgment, the mother wanted her daughter's condition kept a secret within the family.

    Yet as she grew older, Natukunda, now 18 and the latest winner of a beauty pageant for young Ugandan women with the virus that causes AIDS, yearned to live openly, even if it meant people saying harsh things behind her back.

    Natukunda was crowned Miss Young Positive during a boisterous affair at a Kampala hotel early Sunday, besting nine other contestants in an annual competition organized to enlighten people about the dangers of discriminating against people with AIDS. A similar competition is held for young men.

    It's a question that haunts other AIDS patients in this East African country, where experts warn that discrimination remains an obstacle to preventing new HIV infections. Many Ugandans still regard an HIV diagnosis as proof of irresponsible sexual behavior and a source of shame.

    Mothers suffering from AIDS have been known to breastfeed their infants in public places, exposing their children to HIV because they don't want a bottle and formula to make others suspect they are infected.

    Organizers of the HIV-themed beauty pageant, which launched in 2014, say one way of curbing the irrational fear of AIDS that fuels discrimination is for more people living with HIV to open up about their status rather than conceal it.

    "In Uganda, many young people die not because they do not take their medicine. It's just because the stigma and discrimination around them hindered them from taking their medicine well," Lovinka Nakayiza of the Uganda Network of Young people Living with HIV & AIDS, the civic group which put on the pageant, said. "Our family members discriminate against us because they think HIV moves on our faces when we touch their cups, when we talk to them."

    The Oslo Times International News Netowrk