Stigma and discrimination are some of the biggest challenges faced by people living with HIV. In fact, the Minister for Presidency, Hon Esther Mbayo recently revealed that these remain a significant barrier in Uganda’s fight against HIV/AIDS.
Derrick Mbalya 27, mostly known as ‘DRIC HIV + ADOIN’ on social media networks, is a youth living with HIV. He is a motivation speaker, an HIV advocate for Adolescents and Young People Living with HIV, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights.
Mbalya shared his story as pertains living with HIV, from losing a parent, struggling with his own health and tackling the stigma and discrimination from society head on.
“I was born in April 1993, with HIV. I lost my mother in 2001 after she succumbed to HIV/AIDS complications. Life started getting so hard for me because I used to fall sick and had rush on my body,” he begun.
“During my primary and secondary school levels, the stigma and discrimination was too much. Many people said I wouldn’t live up to 20 years and some classmates used to avoid me. I made my own line to have my lunch served to me and a segregated sit that was suggested by the class teacher in the class. When I took a walk with in the community, people pointed fingers, laughing and shouting at me ‘that’s a walking dead,” Mbalya narrated the early days of his youth.
Amidst all the uncertainties that lay along his path each day, Mbalya sought refuge in counselling and drew comfort from his counsellors.
“My counsellor used to encourage me. In 2009, my counsellor from The Aids Support Organization (TASO)-Tororo branch disclosed to me that I had HIV and that that was the reason why I was taking medication and people discriminating against me,” he said.
“After hearing my own story, I was confused and started regretting why I was born. I started abusing drugs; drinking alcohol and smoking weed and other substances in order to forget what was happening to me. I stopped taking my treatment because I knew that I was going to die soon anyway.”
Before long, Mbalya got ill, after ditching his daily treatment. His counsellor though it best to introduce someone who had the same condition and the two reconsidered what mattered other than squandering their precious lives, and moved on with a better mindset.
Using talent to make a difference
In 2010, Mbalya relocated to Jinja district where he started living with his aunt.
“I had to join Aids Information Centre (AIC) Jinja branch for my refills. In 2011, the Aids Information Center-Jinja branch saw that I had voice and talent in music that I could use to change different communities within Uganda.”
“They started training me in going public with my HIV status for three months, and after the training, I first disclosed my HIV status to my aunt, other family members and friends then I did my six month disclosure campaign on the social media that was under DRIC HIV+ ADONI,” Mbalya further narrated.
He said that the disclosure came with challenges, which did not stop him continuing what he had started – changing people’s lives and mindsets especially on social media.
“During the disclosure campaign, I had some challenges where people were asking me that in all names, why do you call yourself such a name? I remember saying to myself that what I started, I have to finish it. It was an online campaign which motivated more people to test and know their status,” he stated.
Mbalya is a graduate in guidance and counselling from Busoga University. He is currently studying public administration and management at Information Communication Technology University-Iganga.
Mbalya said that he has worked with different organizations in creating awareness in Uganda such as Reproductive Health Uganda-Iganga branch, Public Health ambassadors Uganda, Health and Care Foundation Uganda, Child Fund Jinja branch and also PEER TO PEER Uganda as Project coordinator.
In 2016, he was an HIV courage award winner, and 2018 all time best social media award winner.
“In 2015/16, I participated in the annual Yplus beauty pageant which is conducted by Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV (UNYPA) under theme “Beauty with Zero Discrimination” and I came up as the first runner up in eastern region and second runner up at the national level. Through that campaign, I managed to sensitize different communities in Uganda about ending HIV stigma and discrimination amongst Adolescents and Young People Living with HIV and as well as Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights,” Mbalya pointed out.
“Currently, I am the Eastern Region Coordinator Officer of Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), implementing a school event called ‘KoonaMuNgattoNeSRHR’ in different schools,” he said.
He noted that the adolescent mentorship event embodies a number of activities suitable for adolescents and the information packages are managed with the overall objective which is to deliver information and knowledge to the in-school adolescents on reproductive health, menstruation hygiene, sexuality, rights, gender based violence, HIV/AIDS and career guidance to enable adolescents realize and reach their goals.
“During my time as project officer of the ‘GetUpSpeakOut’ project, I have trained young people living with HIV to be peer leaders at their health facilitates. I have also lobbied for different platforms for young people living with HIV’s representation on the sub-county AIDS committee, District AIDS committee and Health centre management committee in Jinja, Iganga and Bugiri districts,” he added.
Message to young people
“My advice to the young people and adults out there, know your HIV status and if you find out that you are HIV positive, please take medication so that you can have a suppressed viral load and to those who are negative, please use ABC because HIV/AIDS is real,” he said.
“I believe bad things in life could be a blessing and a gift. Being HIV positive should not be a challenge but only if you accept the reality, use the space and available opportunities to challenge others who see that you can’t make in life if you are HIV positive. Let your past be your history to motivate others,” he advised.