By Francis Musasizi
I was born into a family of three children: my sister, the oldest, and my brother, next in line. I was the last to be born, and we were all raised by our mother, a single parent.
I’ve been living with this epidemic since the day I was born. For the past 21 years, I’ve experienced real ups and downs because of HIV. For years, I had no idea I was HIV-positive: my mom had not disclosed to me, fearing that the status would worry me. All the same, I remember taking one tablet at 6 a.m. every day – and because I was thin, I faced all kinds of bullies at school.
As the years went by, my mom and I were introduced to Alive Medical Services. I met a loving lady named Dr Pasquine, the director of AMS, who welcomed me into the clinic with all her heart. I was then introduced to Lorna, the head of the Youth Wing.
Since then, Lorna has played a big role in my life; she introduced me to a group of youths who were like me. The youths were a part of the Victor’s Club, AMS’ group for HIV-positive youth. We would chill together, have fun, and entertain ourselves. Finally, I knew I was in a safe place, and AMS became my second home.
By that time, my mom still hadn’t disclosed to me. I was in that curiosity stage of life, where I would ask my mom a series of questions.
“Why am I taking this pill every day?” I would ask. Eventually, she told me the truth, and explained how important that pill was to my life.
When she told me I was HIV-positive, I was shocked. I wondered how I would keep swallowing this pill, every single day, for the rest of my life. With the help of my fellow youths at AMS – and the awesome counsellors who had my back – I realized it was possible.
Even so, returning to school after discovering my status was difficult. I was terrified of how others would think of me. At times, I would skip my medicines. And sometimes, I would go through moments when I started to give up the fight. I became quiet at school, as I didn’t want to share anything with my peers; I started viewing my status as an impediment to my academic performance. However, every time I would feel down, I would call one of the counsellors at AMS.
A few years later, a community music leadership training program came to AMS. The program was launched in partnership with Musicians Without Borders (MwB), the goal of which was to use music to fight stigma. Along with 28 other youth, I went through a series of training at the clinic with MwB. At the end of the program, we were awarded certificates and became community music leaders.
Our newfound knowledge enabled us to provide music training during youth days, children’s days, and additional days during the week, something I’ve been involved with ever since. We would gather with children and lead music sessions, so by the time the client saw a doctor, they would have participated in our session. These sessions had a big impact on clients’ health, as many of their viral loads became suppressed after participating.
After the community music leadership training program, I started believing in myself. I knew I had nothing to change regarding my status, so I embraced it. I accomplished this with the help of my fellow youths at AMS, who always visited and backed me up when I felt down.
My message to all the youths and adolescents living with HIV out there is not to give up on your dreams. We also have bigger dreams to chase, just like any HIV negative person, and we shouldn’t lose hope. We can make it to the stars and beyond if we adhere to our prescriptions and exercise positive living.
Today, Alive Medical Services said goodbye to two important members of our team: Isabel Bedford and Ella Polczyk-Przybyla, music therapy trainees from the University of the West of England (UWE). During their three months at AMS, Isabel and Ella engaged 711 individuals in music therapy activities by holding targeted sessions five days a week.
“People really responded to the program, and to an opportunity to be part of something that is creative,” Isabel said. “It’s another facet of AMS’ holistic care, because clients can engage in musical activities while receiving their medication.”
Though AMS and Musicians Without Borders engaged 30 youth in a community music project last year, AMS did not have a daily music therapy program prior to Isabel and Ella’s arrival.
The trainees provided multiple music therapy groups for clients, including open adult groups, mother-and-baby groups, open community groups, open children/youth groups, closed adult groups, and individual sessions.
“When you come to the doctor, you’re told what to do,” Ella said. “That’s important. But when clients come to a music session, they get their agency back. They have the opportunity to play, sing, and dance, and whatever they do, it will be exactly right.”
Adult open sessions aimed to promote group bonding and social cohesion, provide an opportunity for emotional release, and enable self-expression. Similar goals were set for the open community groups and children/youth groups, while also alleviating boredom, encouraging playtime, and counteracting the medical environment of the clinic.
The mother-and-baby groups provided an opportunity for mothers and babies to spend time together, and encouraged bonding, interaction, sensory stimulation for babies, and stress reduction, among other objectives. The closed groups offered opportunities for regular music-making, song creation, and bonding among a group of consistent participants.
“I’m feeling very happy, and hoping at least now, I can feel the world,” one client said after participating in a music therapy session.
The impact of music therapy has been well-documented. Many studies have shown music therapy can be a therapeutic tool for vulnerable populations, and Isabel and Ella’s work illustrated similar findings. Through quantitative feedback surveys, the trainees found elevated levels of relaxation, confidence, and optimism after participants engaged in music sessions. They also found improved perceptions of connection to others and respect from their peers.
Isabel and Ella also held weekly sessions for staff to increase bonds and collaboration between staff, promote relaxation, and encourage self-expression and creativity. In addition, they trained staff members and select youth to use music for communicating and building relationships with clients. These trainings facilitate the program’s sustainability at AMS.
Today, the trainees return to the United Kingdom to finish their degrees in music therapy. Because of the program’s success, AMS will remain a music therapy placement site for the University of the West of England. We hope to take on new trainees later this year.
“This session made my week begin with peace,” one staff member said after participating in the staff group. “I feel like it will stay with me forever.”
Growing up, George knew he wanted to be a doctor. He was good at math and biology, and he idolized his uncle, a well-known doctor in his Lira community.
“My uncle had a passion for his patients, and I respected that,” George said. “I wanted to learn to do what he did – so I studied clinical medicine, community health and public health.”
After finishing his studies, George got a job with Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) in Northern Uganda. He was stationed in Lira and Kitgum, where he worked with children in two therapeutic feeding centres that served as referral points for health facilities throughout the region. He had studied malnutrition and its effects at university, but seeing such issues in person changed the course of George’s life.
After two years with MSF, George moved to Kampala to continue his studies at the International Health Sciences University. Right down the road, Alive Medical Services (AMS) was growing at a rapid pace. Though only in existence for three years, word about the small clinic was spreading.
“One thing I noticed immediately was the teamwork,” said George, speaking of his impressions after first visiting AMS. “Seven years later, that teamwork is one of the major reasons I continue to work hard today.”
Eventually, a spot opened up at AMS. George took it, and immediately, he began noticing an all-too-common trend, something he had seen regularly in the refugee camps in the north. Many of his HIV positive clients were malnourished, running the risk of never getting better due to lack of food.
“Good nutrition and antiretroviral treatment reinforce each other,” George said. “When a client is taking ARVs but not eating well, they’ll never get better.”
George took it upon himself to expand AMS’ nutrition programming. Every quarter, AMS now screens more than 5,000 clients for malnutrition. Twice a month, we provide packages of rice, beans, sugar and vegetables to thousands of families in food crisis.
In 2014, George took over AMS’ budding gardening program, which trains HIV positive clients to grow healthy food in their own neighbourhoods. George began training multiple groups of clients from across Central Uganda, including patients in Kampala, Mukono, Kapeeka and beyond. Today, there are 18 established gardening groups of AMS clients, all of whom cultivate produce for subsistence and sale.
To strengthen his knowledge of nutrition even further, recently, George went back to school to receive a master’s degree in human nutrition. He has continued to work full-time at AMS, helping clients better understand the value of nutrition through counselling, nutrition check-ups, and health talks.
“Nutrition is critical for people managing HIV,” George said. “We can’t leave it behind.”
As we wrap up one year and move onto the next, we often find ourselves looking for ways to give – not just to our friends and families, but to the causes we care most about. This holiday season, why not give to HIV-positive women, men, and children, and an organization you can trust?
Here are a few ways you can help support Alive Medical Services’ mission this holiday season.
Alive Medical Services is seeking support for three major projects: Stop the Cycle of HIV: Support Women and Children!, End HIV Stigma Through Storytelling, and Transform the Lives of 13,000 HIV-Positive Ugandans. Donations made toward these causes will help AMS support our clients in 2018 and beyond.
Across Uganda, hundreds of thousands of women are living with HIV. Without the proper support, HIV positive mothers will give birth to HIV positive babies, making an AIDS-free Uganda an impossibility. This project will help Alive Medical Services, a medical centre in one of Kampala’s poorest neighborhoods, support women and children with free HIV treatment. By donating, you will have an impact not only on the lives of our patients, but on the lives of families and communities as a whole.
In Uganda and around the world, HIV positive individuals are subject to severe stigma and discrimination. A biased perception of HIV results in staggering outcomes for those affected, impacting an individual’s ability to connect with others and adhere to their treatment. As a result, many fear getting tested and treated for HIV. With your help, this project will work to change perceptions of HIV through the power of storytelling – reshaping an HIV positive person as a fighter, not a victim.
Join us in transforming the lives of 13,000 Ugandans by supporting the work of Alive Medical Services (AMS). Strategically located in one of Kampala’s most impoverished neighborhoods, AMS provides holistic, free medical care 24/7. Clinicians, counselors and nurses serve patients with love and dignity, ensuring those living with HIV can live healthy, full lives. We provide medical care, income-generating programs, psychosocial support, nutrition aid, youth initiatives, and more.
Alive Medical Services has teamed up with 10 partners around Kampala to build a library in our Youth and Children’s Wing. Keep an eye out for our red donation boxes, and drop your change in as you leave! No amount is too small to donate, and every shilling counts.
Guardian Health (Guardian Health has agreed to 100 percent match all donations!)
Locations: Kabalagala, Kisementi, Bunga Road, Jinja Main Road
Locations: Garden City, Kampala Road, Acacia Mall
Locations: Muyenga, Kisementi
Location: Kingsgate Mall
Location: Tank Hill Road (next to BBROOD Muyenga)
Locations: Parliamentary Avenue, Garden City, Ntinda
Location: Tank Hill Road (next to Italian Supermarket)
Food and Goodies
Locations: Haji Musa Kasule Road, Wandegeya, Kampala Road
Location: Acacia Mall
Even if you can’t contribute money, there’s so much you can do to help! Organize an event at your school, office, or in your community, and donate the proceeds toward Alive Medical Services. Options for a fundraising event include:
The amount that you raise doesn’t have to be huge. Even $20 (or 20,000 shillings!) can mean the world to a client living with HIV. We can help make your event a success by offering details about our programs and the impact they have; event planning advice; communications materials; digital copies of promotional materials; and recognition of your event on our social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).
If you’re interested in hosting a fundraising event for Alive and would like support, please contact Elissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donate to Alive Medical Services via Mobile Money!
As an HIV clinic that provides comprehensive care to our clients, we could use much more than just money – medical supplies, books, clothes, soap, personal hygiene items, blankets, food, and toys are all greatly appreciated, as each item will go directly toward an HIV-positive individual in need. Any and all of these donations can be dropped off at Alive Medical Services in Namuwongo, Kampala (we’re open 24/7!), or mailed to us at Plot 5, U.N. Rise First Close, Namuwongo, Kampala.
Starting at 8:01 a.m. Uganda time (and 12:01 am Eastern Standard Time) every donation you make toward Alive Medical Services will help us gain additional funding from Global Giving – and every recurring gift you make will be matched 100%!
Starting today, each donation we receive from partners like you will go toward our work with women and children, helping those disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic live healthy, dignified lives. With your support, we’ll reach sisters, mothers, wives, daughters, and friends, many of whom have nowhere else to turn.
Across the country, the rate of HIV among Ugandan women is higher than the rate of HIV among Ugandan men. Young women and adolescent girls are particularly affected by the epidemic, often times due to gender-based violence, sexual coercion and a lack of sexual and reproductive health information.
To truly end the spread of HIV, we must reach those most vulnerable to it. By supporting women who have already contracted the virus, we can not only save their lives, but stop HIV from spreading to their children.
Your #GivingTuesday contributions will help AMS:
Visit Alive Medical Services’ Global Giving page to make an impact today! Click here to donate.
In 2013, Mary came to Alive Medical Services for a check-up. She had a fever and was hoping to see a doctor, receive some medicine, and head back home. Mary thought she only had a passing illness, but just to be safe, she decided to be tested for a number of viruses anyway.
When the doctor returned with Mary’s results, he told her something she would never have imagined: Mary, though married for years to the same person, was HIV positive.
“I was in such a bad state,” Mary said. “I just came into the clinic to get checked for a fever, and then I found out I had HIV.”
Terrified her husband would blame her for the illness, she didn’t say a thing until he developed a rash on his arms. Mary insisted he get tested for HIV, and when her husband came home with a positive diagnosis, he told her the truth. He had cheated on Mary with an HIV positive woman.
At that point, Mary found out she was pregnant with their third child, the first to be conceived after Mary realized her positive diagnosis. She hurried to AMS as soon as she found out she was expecting.
“The doctors helped me maintain good adherence throughout the pregnancy, following up with me as the months went by,” Mary said.
Within months, Mary’s husband left her for someone else. Regardless of his repeated deceit, Mary stayed strong. She kept up with her medication, came to the clinic for frequent check-ups, and focused on delivering a healthy, HIV negative baby.
After nine months of pre-natal care at AMS, and a year-and-a-half of check-ups post-birth, AMS doctors confirmed Mary’s daughter – Lillian – was HIV negative.
Today, Lillian is nearly 2 years old. Mary is in good health, and continues to come to AMS for her antiretroviral medication and regular check-ins. In addition, her family receives treatment of other infections – opportunistic or otherwise – free of charge.
“At first, I was so worried about having HIV,” Mary said. “But today, I’m okay. I’ve accepted it. And I’m well aware that if I take my medication well, I’ll continue to live.”