Self-stigma: A silent killer of people living with HIV/AIDS

“I used to pass in a short cut from my home to the hospital to seek medical treatment as if I was a thief. I was afraid of neighbors knowing that I was going to get my ARVs and whenever I found a person I knew at the health facility, I would run away before she or he [saw] me getting  drugs.” These are the words of Kagumba Ssalongo Mulinda from Kiwongozi village in Luwero district.

The 56 year-old says that he almost died because of self-stigma. It is for this reason that Mulinda formed the Both Foundation in Luwero district to fight self-stigma among the people living with HIV/AIDS.

“I thought I was protecting myself [from] being exposed about my HIV sero-status, not knowing that I was digging my own grave” he said.

He said that he was hiding from his immediate family while he was on treatment, making adherence to drugs impossible, until he could no longer sustain the game of hide and seek any more.

“I want to tell other people living with HIV that when the virus has entered your body and blood, there is nothing much you can do to change your status but you can change your mindset and disclose it and stick to your drugs. If you don’t, you will die. Remember that being HIV positive is not the end of the world. There is more life after getting [infected] with HIV. We have to fight to the end, if we don’t, the virus is not joking, it will destroy us,” he told Key Correspondents.

He suspects that he got the virus in late 1980s and by the time he tested HIV positive 15 years ago, he had a CD4 count of 33, which has improved to a count of 720 as a result of drug adherence.

Mulinda appealed to non-government organization to financially support community based organizations in order to continue the fight against HIV.

“We are still on the frontline fighting with the enemy, we need strong support to win the war,” he adds.

As Mulinda is still struggling to fight stigma, Youth Counselor and Peer Educator Catherine Namakula is not shocked that Uganda’s HIV prevalence rate has risen from 6.3 percent in 2005 to 7.3 in 2012. Namakula has no kind words for people for who are spreading the virus, knowing that they are infected.

“Most people you see driving posh cars are just looking good [on the] outside but rotten [on the] inside and are on drugs,” she said bitterly.

She advised the youth to be very careful and avoid cross generation sexual network which she said will reduce on the new cases of HIV infection.

Namakula also criticized witchdoctors and food supplement marketers who are misleading people that they have a cure for HIV.

“I have tried to sensitize people to test for HIV and sometimes I get a shock when someone goes to a witchdoctor saying that she or he has been bewitched. We are also facing a huge challenge from people who are marketing food supplements. They go telling people living with HIV/AIDS that the food supplements cure the virus. This has led to some people stopping taking ARVs and opting for food supplement which is very dangerous to their health,” she said.

Umar Kalemani the Luwero HIV Focal Person expressed his concerned over the growing number of people seeking second line treatment which he attributed to the failure to adhere to first line treatment and becoming drug resistant.

“Many people are going for a second line treatment which is very expensive and rare in our health centers.  This comes as a result of people’s failure to adhere to first line drug [treatment],” he said.

Moses Kirigwajjo, the Programs Officer of Uganda National Health Consumers Organization said that in Luwero stigma has reduced because of sensitization work and many people are coming to get treatment freely.

However the health in charge of Luwero Health Center IV, Dr Edward Ssegawa, said that the number has grown from 25 people daily to 200.

“We use used to get 25 people on ARTs clinic day but we now received 200 clients seeking HIV services,” he said.


  • comment-avatar
    Mable Kukunda 5 years

    Thanks Hope for this, is there an opportunity for adding in things or this is final and we can share with RATN

  • comment-avatar
    Moses Kirigwajjo Nsaire 5 years

    Thanks Hope for this piece. I would however wish that we detail out the impact created by the training capacity of RATN and the partnership UNHCO has made with other community based organisations in disseminating the solutions to the existing gaps in HIV/AIDs training. I greatly hope that more well crafted pieces can be produced and we make it our business to publish them.


  • comment-avatar
    alhassane abdou 5 years

    je t’encourage tu es une femme brave et tu va atteindre les objectifs visés.
    Bonne chance

  • comment-avatar
    Josephine Tusingwire 5 years

    Great work Hope. Indeed self-stigma is a silent killer. But at the same time,it is instigated by the stigma created by the people around us. So it is both ways. If one grows up in a community where people talk ill about PLHIV,it may mean that when one tests positive,they will be uncomfortable to talk about their status because they know what people will talk about them. So everybody needs to be sensitised on stigma and discrimination as far as HIV is concerned. thanks again for the great piece

  • comment-avatar

    i know you Hope when it comes to such articles, it is really profiled, interesting and educational.


  • comment-avatar
    Nabulobi Naomi 4 years

    sensitization seems a very perfect tool in fighting against HIV self stigma. And this sensitization should be extended to rural places. where we have more cases of people with low self esteem,low self efficacy leading to self stigma.

  • comment-avatar
    Robert Khosa 3 years

    This is a very encouraging message, most people do a lot of damage untenally which make it easier for the virus to dominate their system. Mulinda is our living example to learn from and start to do things differently in our life. The fight against the HIV virus start from the inside, if we can change our attitudes towards this virus we can make a dofference in our lives.