KAMPALA, UGANDA – Medius Kyomukama, 43, is a cab driver living with HIV in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She learned of her HIV-positive status about 15 years ago when her husband died after a battle with AIDS.
“My husband died in 1997,” she says. “We had one child, a daughter, who was 4.”
Kyomukama says this prompted her to get tested.
”After he died, I tested for HIV and found I was positive,” she says.
Kyomukama was born and raised in Akashenda, a village in Mbarara district in southwestern Uganda. She says she was a village belle, and many young men admired her beauty.
“I was a beauty queen,” she says, reminiscing with her left hand cupping her chin. “Only the stiff-necked men would not take a second look at me. I did not know that I would end up like this – surviving on drugs.”
Kyomukama says she is grateful to the Ugandan government for providing free anti-retroviral treatment to HIV-positive citizens. Otherwise, she says she would be dead.
“It is good the government is providing free anti-retroviral therapy for us now,” she says. “That’s why I am still alive.”
She says that her husband would still be alive, too, if free anti-retroviral treatment had been available at that time.
“Those days, ARVs were very expensive, and we could not afford them,” she says. “Otherwise, my husband would be alive.”
She says the treatment has enabled her to live positively with HIV. She has been able to take care of her two daughters, Margaret and Mackline, and to secure a future so far for Mackline, who is in her last year of high school. She has also been able to construct a house of her own in the nation’s capital.
“I have taken my daughter through school,” she says, her face brightening. “She is in senior six. And I now built a house for myself, in which I live.”
Women in Uganda with HIV say they are able to live positively thanks to free anti-retroviral treatment. But an increasing number of women, who make up nearly 60 percent of the infections here, are saying that health centers lack the supplies to enable them to start the treatment they need. Cuts in international funding, which provides the bulk of support for the fight against HIV in Uganda, threaten the country with future shortages. International donors have asked the government to increase its contribution to the funding of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, but preliminary budget plans have not done so.
HIV prevalence in Uganda has increased from 6.4 percent to 6.7 percent, according to the preliminary results of an HIV and AIDS survey released by the Ministry of Health in February 2012. A final report will be published in June.
As of 2009, women made up 57 percent of Ugandans infected with HIV, according to the Uganda AIDS Commission, which Parliament established in 1992 under the office of the president.
Janet Kamujuni, 52, is a counselor