Hate the Disease not the Diseased

By Gerald Nagwere

As the year nears its end, the 1st of December is here for us to be joyful. As many of our friends are filling the chat rooms with happy new month wishes, I will fill yours with a bit of awareness. It’s World AIDS Day!

During the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) awareness days of last year, I met a friend, Namugenyi Dorothy, who changed my whole perception of HIV/AIDS and its patients. Dorothy shared with me her story, which I later published at the Mt. Kenya Times e-paper in October 2022. I will retell a bit of it in this essay.

Dorothy is a native of Mbarara and a student at Bishop Stuart University. Unlike my earlier beliefs that HIV is purely transmitted sexually, in Dorothy’s case, it’s quite a different narrative. Following constant sickness, she tested positive at the age of nine. At this point, Dorothy thought it was all over for her (although she started medication right away).

I toiled a lot with feelings of depression, worthlessness, and self-denial and decided to kill myself.” She said this in an interview I had with her. By God’s grace, her plot to commit suicide was thwarted by her parents, and her story has changed since then. She felt loved.

When she joined high school, it was quite hard for her again. There was a school nurse who would go around announcing to everyone that she had to take her ARVs. Her peers, who had learned of her status from the wicked nurse, gave her names like “the walking dead.” Dorothy expressed an interest in becoming the school’s head girl during her A-level. She was intimidated by a fellow student because “HIV-positive people have no right to lead her.”

About three months ago, I physically met Dorothy (the earlier meetings had been virtual). She’s a charming young lady who’s no longer brought down by the stigma and discrimination due to her HIV status.

If you are an HIV-positive individual, you need to be like my friend Dorothy; she started her medication immediately after testing positive and has never resigned. She has remained confident amidst the stigma and discrimination she has undergone. Do not think of ending your life; you still mean a lot to this universe. Today, Dorothy (who once wanted to kill herself) offers counseling and awareness to others. They called her the “walking dead,” but she now breathes life into others.

If it isn’t positive, get yourself protected by all means, and protect the victims; do not victimize them. You can despise the disease but not the sick. 

Do not be like Dorothy’s peers, who discriminated against and stigmatized her for her status. HIV kills, but stigma kills an individual more than a thousand times. HIV victims are humans, and we are obliged to treat them with equality and equity.