Aids: 20 Ugandans who made a difference
by Shifa Mwesigye
In 1982, Prof Nelson Ssewankambo was a young researcher studying a strange disease at Kasensero fishing village, Rakai.
Together with Prof David Serwadda and other scientists, they later confirmed the cause of the ailment to be HIV, the virus that causes Aids. On Saturday, as Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark Aids day, Shifa Mwesigye was reflecting on some of the people who have made a dignified contribution to the fight against HIV/Aids in Uganda.
These are people who have fought a good fight, although there is now concern that Uganda is losing the momentum, with new infections outpacing people getting on life-prolonging therapy.
Prof Nelson Ssewankambo
His impressive profile is plastered on walls of international organisations. He’s a leading contributor to the fight against the Aids scourge. He was a co-founder and principal investigator at the Rakai Health Sciences Research programme and a co-investigator in the circumcision study.
He was instrumental in establishing the Mulago-based Infectious Diseases Institute which now treats over 14,000 Aids patients free of charge and runs short courses for doctors from all over Africa on how to treat the disease.
Prof David Serwadda
The former dean of Makerere University School of Public Health was one of the two doctors who researched the first cases of Aids (Siliimu) in Rakai in 1985. He was also part of the project that proved that Nevirapine (zidovudine) could significantly reduce HIV transmission from mother to child, a critical development in the fight against Aids.
She is an activist living with HIV. She cried before US President George Bush Snr in Washington, as she appealed for help for poor countries. The result was the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) programme, which now covers various interventions in all the major thematic areas of prevention, treatment, care and support.
Doctor Noerine Kaleeba
When she lost her husband to Aids, Dr Kaleeba mobilised her colleagues who were affected and infected by HIV/Aids for community action, to form The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) in 1987. It proved to be the first community response to Aids in Africa, and is now recognised as a successful model of care and support for people living and affected by HIV/Aids. TASO is also responsible for the concept “Positive living”, now adopted in many countries.
Dr Alex Coutinho
He is the executive director of the Infectious Diseases Institute, having previously held the same position at TASO. He established holistic prevention and care services including voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), management of opportunistic infections, a tuberculosis clinic, an Aids clinic, a peer education programme as well as hospital management and palliative care for terminally ill patients.
Doctors Philippa Musoke, Clementia Nakabiito and Prof Francis Miiro of Makerere University Medical School’s department of Paediatrics demonstrated that a single dose of Nevirapine, significantly prevents mother-to-child HIV transmission. This laid the foundation for the present PMCT initiatives.
Dr Stephen Watiti
He is a senior paediatrician at Mildmay hospital in Lweza, which handles people living with HIV. He is HIV positive and has a personal experience of the need to live positively. He believes in working through faith-based organisations to help them conduct advocacy work on HIV and mainstream HIV work into their core activities.
Dr Sam Okware
His research, carried out in the 1980s, showed that the main mode of catching the HIV virus was through heterosexual relations. He has been one of the lead investigators in the HIV fight, and helped create awareness and bring down HIV rates during time at the ministry of Health as the commissioner for Health Services, and as director of Uganda Aids Control programme.
President Yoweri Museveni
At a time when many distanced themselves from the HIV scourge, President Museveni took the lead. This put the country on the map, attracting researchers and donors. Although he has since continued to lead the fight against HIV, he has contributed to the dismantling of the ABC (Abstinence, Being Faithful and Condom use) strategy.
In latter years, Museveni has often preached an anti-condom and anti-circumcision gospel, while trying to encourage young people to abstain. Critics say the president sounds like the First Lady, a devout born-again Christian. The trouble with this is that it makes a moral diagnosis of a public health problem, while discounting non-moral solutions.
She founded Straight Talk, an organisation that has given a voice to adolescents on HIV/Aids and sexuality issues. In 1993, she saw the need to address adolescents about safe living or safe sex. Her idea was based on the notion that silence on sensitive topics only frustrates interventions against HIV/Aids.
Rev Gideon Byamugisha
He was the first religious leader in Africa to publicly declare he was HIV-positive and push for condom use as a means of HIV prevention. He is a leader in the field of faith-based approaches to the HIV/Aids fight.
Professor Peter Mugyenyi
Under his leadership, the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) was the first institution to start distributing ARVs. When they were too costly, the award-winning Mugyenyi fought to bring the prices down by importing generic ARVs. Mugyenyi has been the JCRC director since 1992.
Dr Pontiano Kaleebu
He is one of Uganda’s leading investigators into finding an HIV vaccine since he joined the Uganda Virus Research Institute in 1988. His major areas of interest include understanding the protective immune responses against HIV to contribute to the design of an HIV vaccine. Other interests are HIV vaccine trials and resistance to anti-retroviral drugs. He has served on many national and international committees including WHO HIV vaccine advisory committee and the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Scientific committee.
When she lost her husband to Aids in 1991, Ms Were turned her personal struggle into a new brand of activism, aimed at supporting communities affected by HIV/Aids especially women, children and the youth. Her activism centres on supporting the rights of Aids widows and orphans, access to treatment for those infected and prevention of those who are not yet infected. She founded the National Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids (NACWOLA) which operates in 25 districts in Uganda, with over 40,000 members.
Major Rubaramira Ruranga
Major Ruranga has been honoured for openly declaring his HIV status, and leading the fight against the pandemic in the armed forces in 1989. Ruranga was told he had only three years to live but resolved to fight the ailment. He now heads the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/Aids, to fight stigma.
She is a co-founder of Mildmay hospital, the Hospice for Aids patients centre at Lweza. Simms also established Jajja’s home, which offers day-care for children living with HIV/Aids. Since 1998, 55,000 Aids patients have gone through Mildmay centre, while 1,000 of them are currently receiving anti-retroviral medication. She has co-authored the first book to be published on Palliative Care for People with Aids and written a book on the Christian response to HIV/Aids titled A Time to Care.
Philly Bongoley Lutaaya
He was the first major celebrity to announce that he was HIV-positive, at the peak of stigma and discrimination against HIV, on April 13, 1989 and was later acclaimed worldwide. In music and video, he led an awareness campaign against Aids, preaching against promiscuous behaviour in churches and schools.
Prof Elly Katabira,
He is a co – founder of TASO and was their first doctor. In 1990, he was recognized as an international scholar by the World Aids Foundation. In 2010, he was elected as the President of International Aids Society, a leading independent association for HIV professionals that envisions a global movement of people working together to end the HIV pandemic.
First published by observer.ug