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UGANDA: Sheikh Muhamad Kibudde, "Amongst Muslims...there is a conspiracy of silence on HIV"

Photo: Waweru Mugo/IRIN
"Rarely do infected Muslims step forward in public"
Nairobi, 5 January 2009 (PlusNews) - Sheikh Muhamad Kibudde, 43, is the deputy imam of Masjid Takwa in Kitende on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. Two years ago, he tested positive for HIV and a year later surprised everyone by taking to the road to speak about AIDS and his own HIV status to fellow Muslims.

He told his story to IRIN/PlusNews on a recent visit to Nairobi for a regional religious gathering.

“I knew my HIV status by chance two years ago after I checked in at Mildmay Centre in Kampala for a mental check-up. I had suddenly gone wild and I hurt everyone around me, friends and relatives included.

“After I attacked anyone I came across and beat up a neighbour so badly I rendered him unconscious, police arrested me and took me to court where I was fined a hefty sum.

"The judge’s comment that something may have gone terribly wrong with me prompted me to find out why I was going mad.

“When the centre stumbled on my [HIV] condition through a routine blood test, I was counselled and given the shocking news. I think the virus had gone to my brain.

“For two months that followed, I lived in agony, wondering how to break the news to my wife. It is hard to tell your spouse that you have HIV. When I gathered courage, I convinced her to go to Mildmay Centre for HIV counselling and testing (VCT).

“She too was found HIV positive and her CD4 count [a measure of immune system strength] was only 76. They counselled her and immediately put her on ARVs [antiretroviral drugs].

“Though my wife and I tried to keep the news under wraps, I approached the Mildmay Centre's chaplain, Sheikh Jamil Kamiya and discussed with him our plight.

“You know, HIV/AIDS is rarely talked about amongst Muslims. HIV-related stigma and discrimination is very high and rarely do infected Muslims step forward in public. There is a big fraud, a conspiracy of silence on HIV. Some even visit hospitals in secret.

“By strange coincidence, Canon Gideon Byamugisha (Ugandan Anglican priest and the first African religious leader to publicly declare his HIV-positive status) had approached Sheikh Jamil with an odd request - that if he ever came across a HIV-positive Muslim willing to open up, he inform him. Byamugisha wanted to take along such a person for a mission to northern Sudan. I accepted the request and a week later joined him on a mission to Sudan.

“At a HIV/AIDS workshop in Khartoum, I gathered confidence and for the first time publicly announced to a hushed gathering: 'I, my wife and our last born child are HIV positive'. People just gazed at me. Then they mobbed me, asking many questions.

“As a sheikh, I go to the mosques every Friday and speak about HIV - the reality that it is there and Muslims are infected and affected by it. I am forthright about my status and discourage Muslims against being judgemental about HIV/AIDS. 

“I discuss how HIV is spread and prevention, however I don’t discuss condoms. Muslims do not want them and will not broach the subject. I leave it to the counsellors, even as much as I use them with my wife to ward off re-infection.

“But still, stigma persists. Once, my wife faced rejection from her very own people. She was mistreated and people would openly ask, 'Why is this one being fed when she will die very soon anyway?'

“By going public, I have come to terms with my condition. Allah has also been good to me, helping me share my worries and concerns. I am leading a normal life, even with HIV."


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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