“Is there a ‘sure’?” a friend asked as one of the sales ladies called people inviting them to one of our many events. “We will see!” she responded. A ‘sure’ is a big attraction to any hangout where the ladies are present. Strangely, many of these ‘sures’ are actually students in universities and tertiary institutions.
Having worked in bars from 2009, I have noticed how casual sex has become. Being a bar owner, you are a muko of sorts. Many who come through, think you know all the customers. It wasn’t surprising to hear someone call in the morning to ask whether the man or woman they went with the previous night was safe.
“Dr, do you know the guy I went with last night? Is he safe or should I start on my PEP” would be common questions the following morning? “I don’t know where I am. I see things around me that I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything!” some would go on. So, you would have to ask them to get to the window and see any iconic feature they can get their eyes on to help them get directions. Of course, for most of them, sex happened and more often than not, it wasn’t protected.
Sex has been liberated literally and demystified. Simply because, those with the infection these days, no longer look slim and sick as it was in the 90s. Many assume HIV/ AIDS is gone. The fear that we had for the disease that saw us remain with our ‘goat’ till many years into our twenties is now gone. Recent research showed that the fear of the infection is as low as 34% among young people. Sex parties are now common where sex of all orientations and forms happens, many times, under the influence. The same research shows that people who drink have double the prevalence than those that don’t. Actually, for most girls, it’s the pregnancy they are worried about, not HIV. That should scare us.
This is scary because with Covid-19, many girls that are out of school are now joining the system rather early. Girls, as young as 15 years, are not involved in this growing random sex system, mostly to be able to afford the small pleasantries of life such as wigs, I-phones and sparkling win in bars. This culture, heavily influenced by the growing social media demands of being famous, has left many girls – and boys as low-key sex traders often not for money but just keeping up appearances. According to the Ministry of Health statistics for 2019, youth girls contributed 29% of all new infections. This is disproportionately high. It must be arrested. We all need to play our role.
The battle for an AIDS free world by 2030 will need the intervention of all of us to raise awareness about HIV and how it spreads once again. We need to develop a coherent message that appeals to young people to show that you can have fun but still do it safely. That will very importantly need all of us to update our HIV status just like we update our WhatsApp status. We need to know where we stand. This is very critical. See, when we have everyone that has HIV on AntiRetroviral, to the extent that the virus is at undetectable levels, the level of spread will be reduced, substantially. People that take their medicines as prescribed by doctors, consistently, often will not pass on the virus. So that would be a big win for both parties. Those with the virus won’t die because of it and also, they won’t spread it. Of the 1,420,000 people living with HIV in Uganda, only 1.2M are on treatment. This needs to improve.
Also, with regular tests, the risks will be reduced. Actually, for many, as soon as they take the tests and find themselves negative, the risks reduce for that short time. So, regular testing might help make us behave a little more.
The other challenge is with ladies and girls. Our culture makes them very vulnerable. Ladies are brought up to submit to men. Very few women will insist on using a condom. One big muzinyi confessed that for all the girls he has slept with, no one has ever asked for the condom. That’s not unique. Apart from sex workers, research has shown, that most girls will not initiate or demand for use of a condom.
Also, the lifestyle needs of our people make them more vulnerable as the demands to look good for the camera are high. Also, anatomically, the female reproductive organ has more surface area, making it more risky for them to catch HIV more than men. Not to mention that it’s common for one man to have more than four sexual partners who are female. No wonder that HIV prevalence is disproportionately higher among women than men. According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, whereas we had 830,000 females living with HIV by 2019, we had 530,000 men living with HIV in Uganda. We need to wake up our girls and women because they stand a high risk.
Also, according to Uganda AIDS Commission, 57% of young people have had sex with someone who isn’t their regular partner in the last one year and at least 36% of adults have had sex with someone who isn’t their regular partner. People are eating theirs and the problem is, often, it’s bare! The search for a sure thing is overwhelming. It’s very important to always check and be sure before you go for that sure. Today is a good day to know your status. It’s free or cheap. Do it today!
By Innocent Nahabwe
CEO at BlueCube Limited Incorporating Kagwirawo sports betting, 100.2 Galaxy FM, Bluecube, Katogo 24 and 911 Lounge Salaama Rd, Kampala
Deputy Chairperson of National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).