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.
Ever since she could remember, Beatrice wanted to be a nurse.
“I saw a lot of suffering around me,” she said. “Even at a young age, I wanted to learn how to help.”
Beatrice loved connecting with people, and she admired the way nurses cared for their patients – not only delivering essential medical care, but providing emotional support alongside it. To achieve her dreams, Beatrice was trained as both a nurse and a midwife, and moved to Kampala after getting married in 2000. Soon after, Beatrice began working as a midwife for a Bukasa-based medical center.
Today, Beatrice is the head of Alive Medical Services’ (AMS) nursing department. She was one of the first staff members at AMS, joining the team when the clinic opened in 2007. At that time, AMS had just one building and six patients, but her friendship with AMS founder Dr. Pasquine cemented her trust in the organization. In the decade since, Beatrice has had a front-row seat of AMS’ expansion: she watched one building turn into three, and six patients turn into more than 13,000.
“I love what I do,” Beatrice said. “I understand the clients and I take pride in helping them. I encourage them, and try to provide them with the support they need to keep on living.”
When she first began working at AMS, Beatrice conducted deliveries as a midwife. Over time, AMS has shifted its activities to focus on pre- and post-natal care, supporting mothers not only as they prepare for delivery, but as they continue caring for their children years after. To ensure safe births, we provide pregnant mothers with referrals to trusted hospitals, and continue following up with mothers throughout their children’s lives.
As head of AMS’ nursing department, Beatrice sees over a team of four, whose responsibilities are vast and varied. Nurses work with patients immediately upon their arrival to the clinic, taking their vital signs and measurements, and recording their data for the doctors. They also administer patients’ treatment, check on those in the inpatient wards, deliver health education sessions, and provide family planning services, among other essential activities. Beatrice is also in charge of AMS’ stock; in this role, she monitors all medicine moving in and out of the clinic.
“It feels good to help people,” Beatrice said. “And the impact we make feels important.”