Organizers of the HIV-themed beauty pageant believe that one way of curbing the irrational fear of AIDS that fuels discrimination is for more people living with HIV to open up about their status rather than conceal it.
Instead of physical attributes or special talents, contestants are judged on their knowledge of HIV, including basic questions such as what the acronym HIV stands for.
“In Uganda, many young people die not because they do not take their medicine. It’s just because the stigma and discrimination around them hindered them from taking their medicine well,” Lovinka Nakayiza of the Uganda Network of Young people Living with HIV & AIDS, the civic group which put on the pageant, said. “Our family members discriminate against us because they think HIV moves on our faces when we touch their cups, when we talk to them.”
This year's winner Kasibati learned she was HIV positive at the age of 10. She was taken to a health facility and said her conception about the dreaded disease changed from there on. She no longer looked at an HIV-positive diagnosis as being synonymous with a suspended death sentence, as she used to believe before.
“I faced a lot of stigma from my schoolmates to an extent of desiring to commit suicide but when I got the right counseling I have since copied up with the stigma, and I am living positively with the virus,” she said.
She now works as an activist against stigma and discrimination relating to HIV. She decided to go public about her HIV status in order to de-stigmatize the community about HIV/AIDS.
“The struggle against HIV/AIDS will never succeed without addressing stigma. I have personally suffered external stigma and I know that stigma can be more lethal than the HIV virus,” she said.
“She is a real role model and a true ambassador in the fight against the spread of HIV,” said Bizzu, one of the judges at the contest.
There are 1.5 million people living with HIV in Uganda.
The Uganda AIDS Commission has helped develop a national HIV/AIDS policy employing a variety of approaches to AIDS education.
King Oyo of the Tooro Kingdom in Uganda, the youngest reigning monarch in the world and the Cultural Champion for HIV and AIDS among Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa has committed to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
Uganda's battle against AIDS has been going on full swing for the last 30 years. It has been a successful one as well.
However, current statistics depict a drastic increase of HIV incidence where young people constitute as the group most at risk and seriously affected by the HIV burden, this is projected to increase by more than 700,000 over the next years.
HIV remains an urgent problem with 430,000 new infections per year among young people aged 15 to 24.
As a winner of the pageant, Kasibati is expected to become a roving ambassador in the fight against AIDS, its stigmatization and discrimination.