Agenda item 8: Follow-up to the thematic segment from the 41st PCB
Delivered by Lumumbah Musah, NGO Africa
Thank you Madam Chair;
I am Musah, born and raised in Busia, a border town shared between Uganda and Kenya. I count myself amongst the lucky few, as majority of my peers have succumbed to AIDS-related deaths. In 2003 at the age of 15 years, I was subjected to an HIV test simply because one of my loved ones had died of an AIDS defining illness. At high school, everyone knew what had transpired, Musah tested positive for HIV and here I am, I belong to the community.
Being involuntarily put in the spotlight, I had no choice but to reclaim my status. I founded a peer education club and became its president. This started my journey in HIV policy discourse and advocacy. I came to terms with reality and embraced my ‘unwanted stardom’.
In 2015, I joined medical school and I am now in my clinical years, where I find that the Hippocratic Oath requires me to look at one who seeks my support and intervention, as a patient. One of the questions I grapple with everyday is: if people are missing their monthly ARV refills, might they be sick? Another important aspect of adherence that is not shown by the figures: Do I condemn someone who presents with frequent sexually transmitted infections? On the other hand however, the same Oath compels me to remain a member of society, with special obligations to fellow human beings, those of sound mind and body, as well as the infirm.
I have been therefore challenged to be the change I want to see. Working with the International Federation of Medical Students Association, UNAIDS and the global network of young people living with HIV, we are responding to the community’s call, to eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination in the health care setting. We are motivating future doctors to look at HIV beyond a biomedical condition that requires a confirmed HIV positive result, ARVs and Septrin, to a condition that affects the general health and well-being of all those found to be living with it. Their sexual health including their inherent desire to have children, reproductive needs including contraception by choice, the psychological needs, food, safe water and livelihood.
Do you know that, as we talk now, someone has been denied a health service because of who they are? HIV related stigma and discrimination in hospitals has penetrated our gowns and uniforms; it doesn’t just affect our so-called patients, but also health workers who are assumed to be HIV positive as well. This has continued not only to impede access and quality of services, but has also undermined the morale and efforts of health care providers.
We should prohibit HIV mandatory testing and disclosure; respect the privacy and right to dignity of our people; link them to support networks; educate and support health workers to provide quality other than quantity, in a safe and non-judgmental way; and establish and/ or improve measures to track progress on ending discrimination in all its forms.