-- This year, to commemorate the World AIDS Day, December 1, The
New Vision, in conjunction with the parliamentary committee on
HIV/AIDS, will award individuals who have played a remarkable
role in the fight against HIV in their communities. Profiles of
the people nominated by the public will be published every day
until end of November.
THREE men emerge from a nearby bush carrying an old woman, most
likely in her late 60s. After pushing their way through the thick
elephant grass that covers the village path, they quickly tread
through a nearby cassava garden to a nearby compound.
Without knocking, the men lead the ailing woman to one of the
bedrooms. With lightening speed, Monica Isingoma, cuts short my
interview to attend to the patient.
Isingoma is a village counsellor and for the last one-and-a-half
decades, she has helped women in this condition get back onto
their feet, both physically and psychologically.
In one week, this is the third woman to seek help at her home.
The old woman has just been on antiretroviral treatment. When she
developed a crusty and peeling skin, she halted the treatment,
but her health worsened.
Just after her husband died of AIDS in 1991, Isingoma resolved to
avenge what she calls "the monstrous disease."
She did not know what had caused the death of her husband. Her
in-laws who were close to her husband kept it a secret. But after
a while, she discovered that he had succumbed to AIDS. She
quickly underwent counselling and medical examination, only to
find herself HIV-positive.
"I was scared. I could not imagine how my children were going to
live without a parent. Time has been my greatest threat in the
last decade," Isingoma explains, wiping tears of joy. "I was
scared of dying before raising my children and hitting back at
this scourge. But I have won part of the battle. My children are
educated and I have saved a number of lives!"
When she joined one of the mobile care clinics for treatment
three years after her husband's death, she was dismayed by the
kind of advice some counsellors were giving to people living with
HIV. She also realised that several HIV-positive people in
villages were not receiving treatment because they could not
afford the cost.
She began a drama group through which she would sensitise the
locals about the scourge. She also joined the National Coalition
of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA) and became the
chairperson of Njeru branch in Jinja.
One the beneficiaries of the project, Sarah Namazi, explains that
the association bought a cow, which it later sold; giving each of
the 310 HIV-positive women members, either a cow or a pig, as
"Isingoma has been our 'eyes' in this HIV/AIDS fight. Some of us
would be dead, if it was not for her. She helped us gain hope and
live financially strong," Namazi explains.
Isingoma has brought a new face to the fight against HIV in her
area. As much as she has been stigmatised by her colleagues many
times, she believes her payment lies in saving people from being
"I have often been sidelined by my colleagues when there is a
reason for us to share the sweats of our struggle. But if I can
save the life of one HIV infected or affected person, over time
that is enough satisfaction for me."
She also believes God has paid her for her contribution in
fighting the scourge. At the time of her husband's death, her
eldest children was 10 years; the youngest was one-and-a-half
months old. Today, all of them have reached university, save for
one who is still in secondary. She also bought a land and built a
house on it.
"I always tell other women that losing a husband to HIV or even
getting infected is not the end of life. Every HIV-positive
person can live for more decades. The secret is in fighting off
the stigma," Isingoma says with confidence.
This is the same message she carries to other villages daily. She
treks to several villages to meet a number of HIV affected
families. For the past 10 years, she has been offering drama
senstisation programmes, alongside entrepreneurship programmes;
meant to boost the confidence of HIV-positive people.
In 1999, she was already combing villages, sensitising people
against the HIV scourge. In her first years of mobilisation, she
says, the group grew to 500 people. She proudly says she was
raised from dust by St. Francis Health Care Services centre. She,
in turn, helped the centre to boost its fight through
"Several women were in need of HIV treatment and care services,
something we discovered when we started the campaigns," she says.
Faustine Ngarambe, St. Francis Health Care Services' director,
attests to Isingoma's message. He says the centre had a humble
beginning. In 1998, four staff members rented small residential
houses in Njeru town. The centre extended services to people
living with HIV/AIDS. This was after a situation analysis was
conducted in sub-counties of Njeru, Wakisi, Nyanga and part of
Najjembe; and several people were found in dire need of HIV/AIDS
Isingoma also has a big team of HIV-positive women who are making
beads for sale; cultivating mushrooms and rearing animals. Though
her personal mushroom production has dwindled, she explains that
most women in this business, using 5x5 papyrus enclosures, earn
Isingoma has rebuilt the lives of several HIV widows in Njeru and
the neighbouring communities. Most of them have built themselves
businesses and educated their children up to university.
Isingoma, however, is not content with the fight against HIV in
the country. From the local level, she is convinced that
corruption is still the biggest hurdle in this fight. "All that
we have fought for turns to nothing. Corruption robs HIV affected
and infected people of services," she says, sadness written on
However, she is determined to fight on. "It is just the beginning
of the battle against HIV," she confidently vows.