By Barbara Kemigisa
Two weeks ago I visited an HIV positive friend in a district not far from Kampala. As usual, I checked services at the hospital where he gets his ARVs. It is run by nuns and offers free treatment for all.
I introduced myself as an HIV/family planning campaigner. The moment I mentioned family planning, the doctor warned not to say that to the next person I would see – a nun.
I told the nun I was an HIV/AIDS activist and that was perfect. Yet at one point in the conversation I felt like screaming: “You are pushing our effort doooooown! We can’t live without contraception!!”
I asked my friend to tell me what happens during consultations. He said that patients are not supposed to use, request, or even mention family planning.
So at this hospital, people with HIV are not supposed to engage in relationships, get married, have or space children. We don’t need contraceptives? People living with HIV need condoms, whether their partner is positive or negative, in order not to infect others or get re-infected.
This religious discomfort with contraception reflects an occurrence last month at Uganda’s national family planning conference. Routinely at such events all religions give an opening prayer, but the Muslim imam refused, saying his faith disagreed with the event.
This resistance to contraception is a huge obstacle for those of us living with HIV and in a relationship, to our efforts to build healthy and manageable families.
I know couples with low CD4 counts who are medically advised to wait before having children. This can only happen if family planning services are available to us.
Many of our youth are sexually active. We have no option but to encourage them to use protection from pregnancy.
I find it hard to accept that someone could decide for other individuals how to ensure their personal health. They forget that people deal with their lives differently.
As an activist working hard to halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, I feel cheated of choices.
Religious leaders could help a lot but unfortunately they sit in their offices, not knowing the real lives of the people to whom they minister. It’s ugly that some of these leaders only care about their stomachs instead of finding solutions, while those of us who look for solutions are handicapped by their attitudes.
All we get are promises that seldom come to fruition.
We should bring religious leaders together and sit them down for a reality lesson – people living with HIV need contraception!
Barbara Kemigisa is an HIV/family planning campaigner who lives positively with HIV in Uganda. When she is not campaigning, she dabbles in fashion design, plays guitar, composes and sings R&B songs about living with HIV with the same passion she puts in her work towards zero new infections.
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