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Life with HIV in rural Uganda

SOS Medical Centre in Uganda runs a mobile outreach team which visits rural villages
SOS Medical Centre in Uganda runs a mobile outreach team which visits rural villages

For nearly 10 years Grace did not know she was HIV positive. It was not until an SOS medical outreach team came to her village that she discovered why she was experiencing severe pain.

The 35-year-old took pain killers whenever she felt sick. But over time her muscles and joints ached, her skin became covered in a rash and she always felt physically drained. She started to struggle to provide care for her six children. Her youngest child was experiencing similar symptoms.  

“My husband bore the same signs by the time he died in 2005,”Grace says. “I was five months pregnant at the time. “I remember asking him to go to the hospital but he refused. I did not know what he was suffering from and he never told me.” 

A diagnosis from SOS Children

When a Voluntary Counselling and Testing outreach team, run by the SOS Medical Centre, came to her village in northern Uganda, Grace was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.   

“When I tested positive for HIV/AIDS, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt fear, anger and loneliness. I wondered what I should do first. But in the midst of confusion and anxiety I found rest. A counsellor from the SOS Medical Centre assured me that this disease was not an automatic death sentence,” explains Grace.

The outreach team aims to educate the community about HIV/AIDS in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and to encourage people to get tested. Of the 770 people who have been tested so far, 64 have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, including Grace and her daughter. Grace was sent to a local HIV care centre where she and her daughter have been put on anti-retroviral treatment.

Battling the stigma of HIV

 “Knowing my status has had a great impact in my life,” says Grace. “My children have also learnt a lot about the disease and how to protect themselves from it. The counsellor advised me to tell them the truth so they avoid sharing personal items such as tooth brushes.”

Unfortunately, living with HIV/AIDS can also lead to stigma. The virus was discovered in Uganda over 30 years ago yet many Ugandans lack sufficient knowledge of how it is transmitted. Stigma and myths continue to be major barriers to effective prevention.

“Every time I go to the river for water people stare at me. They move away fearing that I will infect them. They stand aside quietly and let me fill my water bucket. They only start drawing water after I have left. It is difficult but I am learning to cope. I am happy that I am healthier and able to do house chores, farm work and generally care for my children without feeling sick or exhausted.”

Access to care in remote areas

SOS Medical Centre Gulu Uganda
Mother, child and doctor at the SOS Medical Centre Gulu Uganda

Other families in Grace’s community of Alokolum, Uganda, are also benefiting from medical services offered through the mobile outreach team. Vincent, 64, explains he has always struggled to access health care for his seven children whenever they fall ill. It can take him up to three hours to reach the nearest facility by foot. 

“My children often suffer from Malaria, diarrhoea and coughs,” he says. “I remember a day when my two children fell sick. As an elderly person I could not carry the two and walk the long distance to the clinic. I did not know what they were suffering from but I was desperate. I opted to buy malaria medication and the children recovered.”

The SOS medical team visits different villages in the area four times a month to provide urgent medical care. In the last seven months, the team has been able to treat 500 patients. They are now gearing up to distribute mosquito treated nets to 500 children to prevent malaria infections.

SOS Children operates 79 medical centres across the world, providing urgent medical support to the most vulnerable children and families. Learn more about SOS Medical Centres.