Reach Out Mbuya on Countering HIV Stigma Through Sports

Football action at the sports gala. (Photos by: Annika McGinnis/Reach Out Mbuya)

Stigma and discrimination are among the leading barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention, approved treatment, care and support among youths in Africa and Uganda in particular.

The practice undermines HIV prevention efforts by making people afraid to seek information, services and modalities to reduce their risk of infection and to adopt safer behaviors lest these actions raise suspicion about their HIV status.

The fear of stigma and discrimination discourages people living with HIV from disclosing their status even to family members and sexual partners and undermines their ability and willingness to access and adhere to treatment.

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Despite efforts made by government and Non-Governmental Orgarnisations (NGOs) to curb the practice, people living with HIV/AIDS continue to be stigmatized at different levels and societies.

In a bid to combat stigmatization, different NGOs have taken a different approach of building confidence and capacity in the positive living youths who are faced with such cases.

One of the initiatives undertaken in Uganda by over 10 NGOs, coordinated by Reach Out Mbuya, a Community Faith-Based NGO, was through a sports gala held on Saturday September 17th, at the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole.

The games were meant to boost self esteem and fight HIV stigma

The games were meant to boost self esteem and fight HIV stigma

The gala gathered over 500 adolescents living with HIV/AIDS and supported by the partnering organizations who participated in different sports activities including Athletics, Football, Sack races among many others.

Also at the gala, were Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) services which were offered to the all the people who were in attendance.

According to Dr. Betty Nsangi Kintu, the Executive Director Reach Out Mbuya, the gala, aside from identifying talent and boosting self confidence among the positive living youths was also a platform to reach out to other adolescents in the community to raise HIV/AIDS awareness.

“Globally, HIV kills more adolescents than any other disease. Adolescents love sports and we hope to use sports since it’s a unifying game, to reach out to them,” she said.

Dr. Betty Nsangi Kintu, the Executive Director Reach Out Mbuya addressing journalists at the gala

Dr. Betty Nsangi Kintu, the Executive Director Reach Out Mbuya (C) addressing journalists at the gala

“In Uganda, we have over 110,000 adolescents living with HIV though only 20,000 are on treatment right now. Many don’t want to test and many don’t have access to information. We hope to reach out to young people through events like this,” Dr. Nsangi added.

During the gala, the adolescents who were teamed up according to the different organisations supporting them faced each other in the respective sports disciplines, competing for bragging rights since there was no trophy and no overall winner would be declared.

Athletes getting ready to take off.

Athletes getting ready to take off.

The energy and talent showcased during the games proved how much potential these adolescents have to become great sports personalities although Fifa maintains that players undergo a medical screening exercise before they are allowed to play for a country or a club.

Godfrey Lubangakene, 21, one of the footballers living with HIV says he had a dream of ‘putting on a Uganda Cranes jersey’ but it was shuttered when he learnt that he couldn’t be allowed to, due to his HIV status.

He however said that this didn’t stop him from doing sports and dreams of being a football coach, building the biggest orphanage centre and being a great agriculturalist.

“Sports makes me forget my status and increases my hope; it makes me feel that I am part of the team and I can contribute to Reach Out,” he said.

“Because of the counseling I get, I am no longer bothered by what people say and I am competitive. I even know that I can live longer than my HIV-negative counterparts.”

“What I want is for equality between the positives and the negatives in our society; just like the females got equality, positives too deserve equality.”

Lubangakene speaking to journalists at the gala.

Lubangakene (L) speaking to journalists at the gala.

Lubangakene is one of the adolescents supported by Reach Out Mbuya where he has been a client since 2007.

He says he was bullied by school mates due to the fact that he was HIV-positive, which pushed him to join sports and even go as far as becoming the team captain. He has played for Butabika Soccer Academy for over 5 years.

Catherine Byamuka, 18, one of the HIV-negative adolescents who attended the sports gala says the galas have been so influential in her relationships with her HIV-positive counterparts.

“There is no segregation and we interact freely despite the status; sports is fun because we forget what one is, and even if you come with a negative view about HIV, atleast you will leave with a value added.”

Participants included both HIV-positive and HIV-Negative adolescents

Participants included both HIV-positive and HIV-Negative adolescents

Byamuka is also one of the adolescents supported by Reach Out Mbuya under their Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program.

She says she wants to study law, become a teacher and do performing arts, vocations which she says bring out the best of who she is.

The gala was graced by CEOs of the different participating organizations which included Information for Better Health, Makerere University Joint AIDS Program (MJAP), Kampala Area Federation of Communities (KAFOC), Action for Fundamental Change and Development (AFFCAD), MildMay Uganda, Marie Stopes Uganda, Naguru Youth Health Network among others.

Nakawa Division Mayor, Eng. Ronald Balimwenzo Nsubuga who was the guest of honour lauded the organizations involved in the gala saying that such events as those will empower the youth and keep them engaged to prevent them from indulging in risky behaviors and activities.

“There is no country that fails to depend on the youth and thrives. I want to thank you for engaging our youths and keeping them busy, doing sports instead of being out there smelling drugs and drinking themselves silly,” he said.

Nakawa Division Mayor, Nsubuga speaking at the gala

Nakawa Division Mayor, Nsubuga speaking at the gala

He decried the state under which youths in Uganda are living saying that most of them are being used to do ‘non beneficial’ things like demonstrations to push political agendas.

The event which started at around 9:00 am ended with recognition of outstanding sports personalities in the evening.

Tyson Tugume from Naguru Teenage and Information Health Centre, was named the best football player while MildMay’s Angel Lunkuse was the best netballer.

There were no official winners as the gala was to promote a friendly competitive environment and healthy behaviors for adolescents.


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