24 February 2024

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Students living with HIV in Lango face stigma as new infections increase 

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the world. When compared to the developed countries where HIV prevalence is on the decline, sub-saharan Africa has experienced either a rise or stagnation in rates.
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Zainab Taliba was Miss Young Positive from 2018 to 2019.

Last Updated on: 2nd November 2022, 01:55 pm

Mr Patrick Gira is the head teacher of Abok Seed Secondary School in Oyam district. He said he knows of some students who are HIV positive yet their information is kept secret.


By Doreen Acipa

Lango, November 2, 2022:  Zainab Taliba is a 22-year-old born and living with HIV/AIDs. She is among the young persons who are HIV-positive in Lango sub-region.

Taliba was the Miss Young Positive (Y+) for Northern Uganda from 2018-2019.

“I found out that I was HIV positive on December 11 2014 after sitting my Primary Leaving Examinations [PLE]. I went with my aunt to the hospital because I had swelling under my feet. I was asked whether I knew my HIV status but I wasn’t aware. I even never knew anything about HIV and I became scared because I use to hear that those who are HIV positive are prostitutes,” she told me.

“But I had no boyfriend,” she added.

Taliba said they were ten at the hospital. They were welcomed by a peer supporter. “We were counseled and gave our consent for our blood samples to be taken, I asked a lot of questions in my mind and the result was declared after pre-Art care.”

She said she went home with the medicine and her parents were shocked but “they knew something and they declared to me that they knew that I was HIV positive,” Taliba narrated.

Her only sister would remind her that she will die very soon.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the world. When compared to the developed countries where HIV prevalence is on the decline, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced either a rise or stagnation in rates.

Zainab Taliba stated how she had one year of poor feeding and stigma at school and she could not take her ARV medication when she joined secondary school.

Although it was not part of the national curriculum until 2004, HIV/AIDs education has been taught for some time in secondary schools in Uganda through various means, including media, youth groups, drama, music and Parents–Teachers Association (PTA).

At school, Taliba faced a lot of challenges with school feeding.

“Things became worse when I joined Senior One. My parents did not disclose my status to the school authorities yet they expected me to be taking my medications. The first thing in our school is that when you miss food you miss it, and you should struggle for the next meal. But when you miss again, no one cares and there was a time I missed food for one week and I was surviving on friends’ mercy,” she told me.

She became weaker and weaker and was the subject of ridicule. One time, when her fellow students realised that she was taking drugs, they devised a plan to embarrass her. Some remained behind in the dormitory and when she came back, she found her drugs splashed and scattered all over the floor. The second time she came back and found out that her drugs were mixed with water and it was looking like porridge.

“I could not differentiate which is which and I could not complain because I did not want anyone to know that I was [I’m] HIV positive. Now, the third one, they dumped my drugs in the toilet and that was the time I lost everything and I said: ‘If I am trying to care and no one cares, why would I care?’ I also stopped medication and I stayed in school the whole year minus taking medication and dodged taking the viral load test until 2017.”

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Despite the stigma, Taliba did not give up on taking her medications especially after her condition started getting worse. “I asked myself, who am I, who do I want to be? I began taking my drugs and adhering to a prescription schedule,” she says.

“I would put my ARV in a chewing gum cover so that when I’m picking one, people would think that I was chewing gum. So, that is how I managed to adhere to my medication and improved my health. However, I still dropped out of school,” Taliba recalled.

Taliba became the Miss Young Positive (Y+) for Northern Uganda from 2018-2019.  Watch more from her here.

Another 17-year-old boy from Alebtong district also shared how he was stigmatised at school. With slightly a swollen belly and dark spots on his skin, he became a victim.

“But I do not care because even my mother told me that I will swallow ARVs every day until the day I will die, so it is now my daily meals,” the boy, who we cannot name for confidentiality reasons, said.

District Health Officers (DHOs) speak

Meanwhile, the District Health Officer (DHO) of Apac district, Dr Francis Oceng said he also lost a brother-in-law due to stigma at school.

“The boy was very healthy and took his medication faithfully when he was at home. However, I could not take the medicine at school because of the stigma. He ended up failing to take the medicine or would hide when taking them. So, while we thought he was taking his medication (ARVs) he was now just keeping. His immunity went down and he had gone for one-and-half years without his medication. I took him to the hospital but it was late,” Dr Oceng said.

Dr Oceng added that more than 90 per cent of the HIV/AIDs intervention in health facilities is supported by partners and sometimes they work with the donors’ demands or strategies.

The interventions, he noted, are mostly at the health facilities and in the community, not schools.

On adherence to treatment at school, Oceng said schools are not even prepared for HIV/AIDs interventions whether preventive, curative or supportive, adding that schools only focus on early pregnancies.

Usually, he added that schools give forms to parents to fill in the details of children with chronic infections or illnesses but the information remains on the paper and most schools do not even keep accurate data about the students.

“The school policy must be streamlined and have qualified nurses and not just rooms provided with beds,” he is demanding.

“Schools must have programmes that attract health officials like us,” he added.

Listen more from Dr Oceng on the packages that the district provides. Click here.

Dr Martine Egwang is the Assistant District Health Officer for Kole district. He urged schools to form clubs to empower and encourage students to talk freely and openly about HIV management and particularly,; how to live with HIV/AIDs while on medication.

“Parents need to be engaged to let them know that their children who may be born with HIV/AIDs need to live with other children who are HIV/AIDs negative and it will be the responsibility of these parents to support their children,” Egwang said.

To ensure that a student’s viral load is suppressed, Dr Egwang added that schools need to provide a fair diet for the effective working of the drugs on top of adherence.

Dr Egwang called on the government to consider enacting a policy to allow medicines to be supplied to schools to support students living with HIV/AIDs

Further, he said the community needs to be empowered with knowledge about HIV and that there is a lot needed to be done including preventive, curative, rehabilitative and promoting methods.

The Acting District Health Officer for Kwania, Dr Moses Ngura said many parents fear disclosing their children’s status because they do not want to indirectly disclose theirs as well.

Dr Ngura asked schools to promote debates on HIV/AIDS to sensitise the students on the pandemic.He also wants AIDS/HIV champions to talk to the students so that they can learn through behaviour change.

School head teachers share what they are doing to fight HIV/AIDs stigmatization at schools

Mr Patrick Gira is the head teacher of Abok Seed Secondary School in Oyam district. He said he knows of some students who are HIV positive yet their information is kept secret.

“There are those introduced to me officially by the family and what we do, we don’t allow them to keep their drugs by themselves but we keep the drugs in the sick bay such that they go and take the drugs from there and when it is over, we give them permission to go for replacement,” Gira said.

However, he added that other parents do not disclose the status of their children to the school, making it difficult for them to be assisted. “Others are not on medication and the school always gives them advice but does not force them.”

Mr Gira said that his school has so many students who are HIV positive, adding that some are positive and have their medications.

“They keep it a secret and the school has always realized during inspection of unwanted items. We understand because they are adhering to the medications.”

Listen for more from Mr Gira on advice, counselling those students and feeding here.

Mr Godfrey Obuku, the Director of Studies (DOS) for Iceme Girl’s Secondary School said they have many girls who are HIV positive.

“They are helped through continuous guidance and counseling which is done on a one-on-one basis and through inviting medical individuals to talk to students every term.”

Listen more from Mr Obuku here.

Mr Donald Oyera, the head-teacher of Maruzi Seed Secondary School in Apac Municipality, said they have mechanisms to help HIV/AIDs in the school because as a school “they know many of them who came voluntarily or were reported by parents”.

Oyera said they have severally organised games to mobilise and talk to these students with the support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

Mr Oyera confirmed that Maruzi SS has some students who are HIV positive.

Mr James Ocen is the Director of Faith Secondary and Premier Progressive Secondary School in Lira. Ocen noted that most students are on HIV/AIDs medications not knowing why they are taking the ARV drugs.

He said parents shy away from disclosing the statuses of their children to schools even though they have always given them forms to fill out regarding the students’ health.

“But, as schools, the head teachers must have details of such students with confidentiality to prevent stigma,” Ocen said.

He continued that the ARV medications for HIV/AIDS-positive children must be kept in the head teacher’s office since it is taken once a day. “It may not be safe to keep in the dormitory,” he noted.

Mr Ocen expressed that students who are HIV positive are in so many schools.

Mr Ocen who also doubles as the Director of the Gift-life Care Clinic in Lira City further noted that he has been organising health education on HIV/AIDs and mental health at his schools and urges other schools to come up with health sensitization programs.

He also advised parents who know the HIV statuses of their children to pack an additional balanced diet for them while reporting to school.

Meanwhile, during an interview with Dr Richard Nam, one of the commissioners of the Uganda AIDs Commission, stigma and discrimination are still very big challenges impacting a lot on the management of HIV/AIDs in schools in the country.

Dr Nam said the HIV/AIDs Committee needs to be formed in schools. He is now advocating for the formation of peer-to-peer groups so that young ones can talk to themselves. Click here to listen to more from Dr Nam.

Lango sub-region has 10 districts including Lira City and the spread of HIV/AIDs in the sub-region is alarming.

Lira district and Lira city’s prevalence is at 7.2 per cent, followed by Dokolo district at 6.6 per cent, Kwania at 6.5 per cent, Amolatar at 6.4 per cent, Oyam at 6.3 per cent and Alebtong at 5.3 per cent.

Others are Otuke with 4.7 per cent and Apac at 2.3 per cent, as per the report presented by Commissioner Prof. Dr Richard Nam on December 3, 2021, in Amolatar District.

Meanwhile, Otuke district registered over 8,000 cases of new HIV infections as revealed on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, by the Assistant District Health Officer. 1,029 are HIV-positive children under the age of 15 years.


This story was done with Funding from the Aga Khan University Excellence in Journalism Program.

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