Uganda is currently in a partial country wide lockdown; corona virus has been unforgiving with no house holds in Uganda that hasnt been affected by the pandemic. Uganda first announced its first lock down in March 2020, with public, private transport and individual movements being restricted. The second a 42-day lockdown was announced in mid June 2021 and much like in March last year people living with HIV are stuck in their homes and unable to visit their preferred health facilities to get their medication and refills.
Due to the widespread HIV stigma, patients frequently seek health care services at facilities several kilometres away from where they live. There are currently 1.2million Ugandans enrolled on antiretroviral therapy ART and who were greatly affected by the lockdown
It is on this not that youth across the country especially in the Kampala metropolitan volunteered to distribute medication to the people living with HIV who could not reach their health facilities especially for their refills.
Opio Kenneth a 28 year old free HIV youth who currently works in a hardware at Nakasero decided to distribute ARVS because he has the means to distribute medicine with his bike after he saw what his HIV living mother went through, “my inspiration to distribute the drugs was my mother who went through the same situation and because I had the mean I decided to do the same for other people”
Opio says that with the help of his community legislators like Joel Ssenyoyi the current Member of Parliament Nakawa west division who used his social media platforms to inform people about Kenneth’s initiative, people started calling him and eventually medical facilities did the same noting that he reached 5 to10 clients a day depending on the calls he received.
Namutebi Norah an infected widow and a mother of 4 says she was helped by Opio Kenneth that she could not walk to the facility to get her medication and was ready to wait till the lock down was lifted to go pick her refills, however with the help of her doctor she was able to connect with Opio who helped reach her get her medication. “When movements were restricted, there was no way I could walk to my facility to get medication because it is a little far from my home, I have to take 3 taxis, but my doctor gave me Opio’s number and when I called him, he said he would be able to help me get my medication and that is how I did, Norah stressed.”
He however stressed that he faced a few challenges like the police on roadblocks, doctors who did not believe him because he was dealing with different facilities and clients who did not show up when he reached their locations. “I faced a challenge of the police blocking me at various roadblocks asking me a lot of questions, some doctors who did not believe me because it was dealing with something that’s needed a lot of people’s confidentialities.
Simon Peter Bukenya a 30-year-old positive young man notes that he stared on the distribution of drugs to empower his mates who are living with HIV to live a better life without missing out their drugs. “With the initiative I started dubbed save lives, I operate the Kampala metropolitan and during the lockdown I was able to use my bike to supply medication for those who couldn’t get to their respective health facilities so that they could no miss out their medication so that they live a better life’’.
He says he started the initiative immediately the president placed a lock down in March 2020 with a number of volunteers who had the means to majorly focusing on women and children noting that they have reached over 4000 clients ever since they started their initiative in 2020.
“Our office focuses more on women and children with a broader perspective of all those living with HIV and have reached more than 4000 people both in the first and second lockdown Simon said.”
“We have a challenge of people promising to fund us or things to use and never show up and some come with initiative to gain from us, people also misdirect us to their places and take us far away from where they stay, the other issue is maybe the data and fuel for transporting us because we don’t have funders it is entirely our initiative, he added”.
Nalubega Cynthia a 10-year-old girl said that it was the help Simon Peter that they were able to get medication and food from his initiative without walking long distances and obstacles from the police officer.
Nalubega’s mother Nalwadda stellas, who has no clue on how her daughter got infected says she has now lived with virus for 6 years now when the lock down was put in place they got stranded, however Simon Peter we were able to get our medication. “We walked long distances just to get our medication, and it was hard because I had to walk with my daughter to hospital, however when we got in contact with Simon peter, he helped us with delivering the medicine and brought for us some food to help us pass through the lock down’’.
She however calls upon government to consider people living with HIV in case lockdown is reinstated.
William Matovu a 27-year-old youth says that when the 2 lock downs where placed he stopped taking medication because he could not travel nor connect with his facility but with the help of Simon Peter, he was able to receive his refills the entire lockdown. He stressed that through social media he was able to get Simon Peters contact who helped him do the service.
Now Kuraish Mubiru, the Executive Director Uganda Youth Positives, calls upon Government and concerned ministries to be considerate when trying to pose any more lockdowns stressing that many people lost their lives especially the youths because of the restrictions that were imposed during the lock down.