In the early 1980s a strange disease was discovered in Uganda and nobody knew what that disease was and how far-reaching its impact would be on entire sociocultural economic wellbeing of humankind for ages to come.
The disease, which was later confirmed as HIV/AIDS, was called Slim by the local people due to the way it would waste away the bodies of those who were infected.
Within a short time, cases of Slim killing family members were being reported in all parts of the country and yet there were no known support systems that people would turn to for care and information about the disease.
That situation allowed a lot of myths about HIV and AIDS and so following fear, denial and rejection of people and families affected by the disease to thrive. In 1987, a group of 16 volunteers led by Noerine Kaleeba, whose families were also directly or indirectly affected by the new disease, started informal meetings to provide mutual psychological and social support.
These volunteers were soon confronted by the apparent need to extend the kind of support they were providing to their families to other people who did not have such support in the hospitals and homes.
At that point, the group did not imagine that the informal support they were providing would become one of the earliest indigenous responses to the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Uganda and Africa. Towards the close of the year, the group agreed to identify their efforts with a carefully crafted name, The AIDS Support Organization, "TASO" in short.
The Mission and Vision of TASO
For 25 years now, the mission of TASO has remained to, "Contribute to a process of preventing HIV infection, restoring hope and improving the quality of life of persons, families and communities affected by HIV infection and disease".
This mission is fulfilled through:
• A combination of HIV prevention interventions
• Providing comprehensive HIV and AIDS counseling care and support services as well as promoting positive living
• HIV and AIDS treatment services
• Training and capacity development for HIV and AIDS service provision
• Advocacy, policy and networking.
The vision of TASO is, 'A world Without HIV'.
TASO Celebrates Silver Jubilee
The initiative started by the 16 volunteers has existed for now 25 years, evolving into one of the largest indigenous Non Governmental Organization providing the most comprehensive package of HIV and AIDS services in Uganda and Africa.
For the exceptional journey travelled in the last 25 years of great service to persons, families and communities affected by HIV infection and disease, the organization has chosen the theme " Celebrating 25 years of positive living: the foundation of HIV prevention, care and support" to celebrate its silver jubilee.
A series of events have been organized during the year with the main event scheduled for 22nd September 2012 at Wonder World Amusement Park, Kansanga.
Throughout the 25 years of HIV and AIDS service, TASO has been a pace setter in the HIV responses; pioneering a number of best practices that have been adopted by other partners at national as well as international level.
One of the corner stone innovations by TASO that has greatly impacted on the HIV response across the world is the concept of Living Positively with HIV or simply put, Positive Living. It was thus correctly fitting that this was chosen as the theme for the silver jubilee celebrations.
TASO Philosophy of Positive Living
The philosophy of Positive Living in TASO is about good understanding of HIV and AIDS and using that knowledge and its proven applications to gain leverage to defeat this epidemic. It is a cross cutting practice essential for everyone; for people living with HIV and those who are HIV negative; for families, communities as well as institutions.
For people living with HIV, positive living entails practices that enhance the quality and longevity of life by keeping the body, mind, emotions and aspirations strong, healthy and focused. In practice this means among other things, seeking routine/ongoing counseling and prompt medical care including Antiretroviral Therapy, accepting the test results and adjusting behavior accordingly, ensuring good nutrition, access and use of available technologies such as Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT), having adequate physical exercises and rest, avoiding compromising practices such alcoholism and smoking, and continuing to engage in productive work/ employment.
Positive living is also about making and practicing decisions on safer sex and risk reduction to self and others. It is true that for every new HIV infection, there must be an HIV+ person and when HIV+ persons, with support from all stakeholders, embrace these strategies, then we are working to close the "tap" of HIV transmission. Positive living for people who are HIV negative is about making and practicing choices that will keep one HIV free. The entry point to positive living and HIV/AIDS care and support is through taking an HIV test to know ones sero status.
When you know your HIV status, following a judicial process of HIV counseling and testing, you are empowered to lead a responsible life that reduces risks and prevents any new transmission of HIV.
A responsible life involves among other aspects, avoiding practices that compromise ones sense of judgment of potential risks such as alcoholism and drug abuse; practicing safer sex; avoiding multiple sexual partners and other harmful cultural practices; adopting tested technologies such as Safe Male Circumcision, Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis.
The philosophy of positive living transcends the life of an individual; it also takes account of practices, norms and conditions prevailing in our families, communities and institutions. In this regard, positive living means creating systems and structures that take care and support people living with HIV to lead meaningful, productive and happier lives while at the same time supporting people not infected with HIV to remain HIV free.
Positive living is therefore a philosophy every stakeholder at all levels should and must embrace for the world to record successes in defeating HIV.
Some of TASO Achievements:
Throughout the journey of 25 years, TASO has recorded unparalleled milestones in the service of the citizens of Uganda and beyond in preventing HIV infection, restoring hope and improving the quality of life of people affected by HIV and AIDS. These successes have been anchored to the philosophy of positive living with HIV and include the following among many other achievements;
• From a small volunteer group operating in a single room at Mulago Hospital, TASO has established 11 fully fledged service centres in the major towns in all the four regions of the country; one(1) international training centre, four(4) regional training centres and a head office at Mulago Hospital Complex.
• TASO has supported the establishment of other HIV and AIDS care and support organizations including the AIDS Information Centre, Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations, among others and several HIV and AIDS Community Based Organisations across the country
• TASO has over the years, provided care and support to over 300,000 individuals living with HIV, together with over one million members of their families.
This effort has significantly improved the quality of lives of people living with HIV and their families and reduced the rate of morbidity and the number of AIDS related deaths in the country. In the recent years, TASO serves an average of 100,000 clients annually with over 12,000 new clients being registered each year.
• Over 30,000 orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) have been supported though interventions in educational support, child protection, economic strengthening, food security and HIV prevention, counseling and care.
• Over 50,000 clients are currently receiving Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) from TASO, contributing to about 15% of the Uganda national effort. About 10% of this number are children under the age of 10 years. Over 75% of the clients on ART receive their drugs refills through Community Drug Distribution Points and this is done as part of the strategy to strengthen community engagement in the HIV response.
• TASO spearheaded the drive to eliminate stigma and discrimination, mobilizing people living with HIV to join the fight and give HIV a face that is now generally accepted and respected. Right from the onset, TASO has promoted the principles of Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS (GIPA) and Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS (MIPA).
• TASO has contributed significantly to the building of capacity of health service workers to provide quality HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support services in Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries. Over 20,000 individuals and staff of Governmental and non-governmental organisation in more than 25 African Countries have been trained in various courses relevant to HIV prevention, care and support.
• The organization has greatly contributed to strengthening of the national public and community health care systems through training, coaching and mentorship of health workers; development of best practice models and protocols; promoting referral and counter referral services and equipping health facilities with some of the required equipment among others.
• Participated in a number of partnership researches in HIV prevention, care and support that have contributed to the global knowledge and proven practices in the HIV and AIDS response.
• TASO employs over 800 staff and about 300 volunteers, making a good contribution to the employment opportunities for the citizens of this country.
• Constructed the House of Hope as a sustainability strategy for continued provision of care and support services to people living with HIV. The magnificent House of Hope located in Kamwokya, Kampala is rented out to generate internal resources to support HIV prevention, care and support services.
• TASO has been chosen by the Uganda Country Coordinating mechanism of the Global Fund as the Second Principle Recipient for the Global Fund to Fight High and AIDS for the private sector, a role usually a reserve for the government agencies.
The successes recorded by TASO over the last 25 years have been built around strategic partnership with various stakeholders involving the People Living with HIV, the government, the private and public sector actors, civil society organizations, community based groupings, religious and cultural institutions, the academia and the development partners. TASO has had a strong value system crafted around the life of a person living with HIV and a good work culture that has enabled the organisation to record unequalled milestones to-date.
TASO is indeed a great example of a successful indigenous civil society response to HIV and AIDS pandemic in the world. This success recorded by TASO illustrate the complementary role of civil society efforts in supporting the government to respond to development needs and challenges faced by the citizens.
You have been part of this great journey in the last 25 years and we say thank you. There is still more to do and we count on you for accelerated partnership and mutual support at all levels for us to achieve more in defeating HIV so we can see a world without HIV.