In-depth: Love in the time of HIV/AIDS
UGANDA: Love, positively - IRIN/PlusNews film
NAIROBI, 25 June 2008 (IRIN) - Gordon Turibamwe, 20, has just finished high school and dreams of a career in the media; he and his girlfriend, Princess, are talking about the possibility of a future together. Ten years ago, this would have been next to impossible.
Gordon and Princess, 22, have both been HIV-positive since birth, and both are alive because they have been on life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) medication for several years now.
An estimated 27,000 children were born with HIV in 2007. According to Uganda's Joint Clinical Research Centre, without treatment, 66 percent of them will die before they are three years old.
IRIN/PlusNews's new film, Love, Positively looks at the lives of young adults who have been infected with HIV since birth.
Growing up with HIV has been far from easy: the stigma associated with HIV-positive people is high in Uganda, and school children can be particularly cruel.
"The first stigma I faced was [at] home. My [step] mum told my siblings about my status ... as if it was my problem [fault]," Gordon told IRIN/PlusNews. "And even at school, when students saw my [ARV] drugs in my school bag they stigmatised me."
Parents and guardians often find it hard to explain to children that they are HIV-positive; Princess only discovered she was HIV-positive at the age of 18. Her doctors told her she was HIV-positive and when she told her mother, she accused Princess of having acquired the virus sexually.
"It was a shock to find out, but my mom's reaction made it even more terrible," Princess said. "I knew I had never had sex before, so there could only be one explanation that made sense, especially since I had been so sickly throughout my childhood."
Most young people living with HIV in Uganda are orphans; close to one million Ugandan children have lost at least one parent to HIV. Gordon's mother died when he was an infant and he lost his father during the shooting of Love, Positively.
He lives with his step-mother, who cannot afford university fees, so he has temporarily had to shelve his media ambitions and is pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, these young people are determined to live life to the full, and their positive attitude is already reaping rewards - Princess has become the main caregiver of her mother, Jennifer Nalwoga, who has tuberculosis and is just beginning to come to terms with her own HIV status.
Princess says years of counselling and peer support group meetings have given her the ability to cope with tough times, and her relationship with Gordon is also a source of strength.
"I feel so comfortable relating to someone who has the same status, because we are in the same situation and the other person knows what you really feel," she said.
"Back at home I am having stress [because of her mother's illness], but when I am with him we chat, we laugh [and] I overcome the problems at home," she added. "I just become a happy girl and continue with life."
The new IRIN/PlusNews film was produced in collaboration with the Population Council and The AIDS Support Organisation in Uganda.