Sex and HIV – Day 36

Posted on April 9, 2012

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Most Ugandans are aware of the dangers of contracting HIV yet getting men to use condoms is still difficult. I say men, because here in Uganda it is unheard of for a woman to ask a man to wear one. Forget about the idea of women carrying protection themselves and offering it to a man at the appropriate moment. It would be seen as disrespectful. I’m told the man would either walk out or laugh in their face.

Some statistics put 10 per cent of Uganda’s population as having HIV. But Ricky (the intern vet) says he believes it’s probably higher. In his village alone he told me at least 30 per cent of people have it.

“People know the risks, but a woman cannot ask a man to wear a condom,” he insisted. “Especially a woman from a village, she cannot! It is just not done. We are still behind you people in that matter. Maybe if you are an educated women, but I can’t imagine.”

Condoms are expensive, and they fall low on the priority list for things to buy. Food prices are rising all the time so disposable income is shrinking day-by-day. Young people are playing Russian roulette with their health every time they start juggling several partners at once; but it’s the done things so few worry about it. My Ugandan friends tell me that even if you handed out condoms for free, the majority of men would be embarrassed to use them, they feel it undermines their manhood and it’s not good for their image.

The entrepreneurs among them would probably stockpile the freebies and flog them for cash even if their sell-by-date had expired. In a country where promiscuity is commonplace, protected sex needs to be addressed more urgently. I know several men who work at camp that have at least two or three women on the go at any one time, (and the women know about each other and have several kids by the same man). I find it astonishing. There’s also no guarantee that the man will stay faithful to those women either.

“I cannot buy a condom in my village – NO WAAY!” laughed Ricky. “Can you imagine if people found out?! If I do buy it, I do it away from home and just point at it in the store.

“You know here in Africa, if a man buys a condom, he will put it in his back pocket, sit on it while he rides his bicycle for 20km in the sun to see a woman.  And you think the condom will be ok after that journey? Aaah no, it is not possible!

“Then you have people who use the condom. Wash it, and use it again,” he emphasised.

Ricky is not shy at expressing his views. So to hear that he is embarrassed says a lot. He is in a long-term relationship and plans to marry his girlfriend next year.

Trying to educate people about spreading infection is just as hard as trying to prevent it.

One NGO told me, by some young women from the villages are so poor they have no money to buy fish for their families, so they sell their bodies in order to buy food. It’s an offer the fishermen are happy to exploit. How do you fight this when poverty is rife?

Nancy told me a story the other night that she had read in the newspapers. A young woman left her boyfriend after being with him for some time. He was poor and could not provide her and their child – it was not an easy break up despite the fact that she loved him. After a while she met another man who was very wealthy. He showed great affection to the child that wasn’t his (I’m told this is highly unusual in Uganda) and eventually married her. She then gave birth to two other children. They were happy (or so it seems).

After some years had passed, she was asked to attend a business trip in South Africa and decided to take her children with her. While she was there, she bumped into her ex-boyfriend. He told her how much he missed her and still loved her and wanted to see her again. He had improved his image and was wearing expensive clothes and looked like he was earning a lot of money.

The woman thought: “Can this be the same poor man I was with? Have things changed?”

Their chance meeting began to rekindle her feelings for him during the trip and they secretly hatched a plan that she would return to South Africa without the children and spend the weekend with him.

So she trotted back to her devoted husband, who was none-the-wiser and concocted a tale about having to attend another workshop. He agreed to look after the kids and off she went several weeks later.

She spent an intimate weekend with her ex-boyfriend and was unfaithful. On the night she was due to go back to Uganda the ex-boyfriend turned to her and said: “That time you left me, you hurt me so much. If you think I invited you here because I love you, and wanted to win you back you are wrong. I am sorry but I am HIV positive.”

He had knowingly infected her as revenge. I know in the west there have been several court cases in the UK and the States where people have been tried for a crime like this because it’s pre-mediated. But in Uganda, unless you have money, how can you enforce the law. Plus it won’t bring back your health.

The woman now horrified and filled with guilt; decided it would be better to run-away than face up to the consequences of her infidelity. She left her three children behind with her husband and has not been seen since. She still remains on the missing persons register in Ugandan.

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