Sharifah Nabukenya is a citizen journalist with Key Correspondent , a global network supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which enables people from communities most affected by HIV to document the realities they and those they know face.The opinions expressed are her own.
Nulu Nabbumba Kisitu, from Kampala, Uganda is 25-years-old and HIV positive. Nulu has been looking after three HIV- negative siblings and an HIV-positive mother since she was 10.
She first learnt she was HIV positive at the age of 20. Nulu says she had suffered from all kinds of sicknesses throughout her childhood but had never known why.
Remembering the day she discovered her status, she says: “I cried, blamed myself, and regretted why I was born. ‘How could this happen to me yet [I] am still a virgin. And my parents and relatives hid this all from me?’”
While at school, Nulu says classmates used to call her ‘musujja’ (malaria girl) because she was thin and falling sick all the time.
She assumed family responsibilities at 10 when her mother left home. Her youngest sister was three. She would prepare food for the family, bathe her siblings and clean the house after classes.
Nulu recalls how she developed sores on her buttocks but feared to tell her father until they started bleeding one day. “I could not imagine undressing in front of my father; there was no one to help me and the pain was terrible,” she says.
In 1999, her father grew very thin. He told his children he was suffering with typhoid but refused to go to hospital. He died and their mother agreed to take them in.
Nulu says life was most unbearable during Senior Five and Senior Six years as she fell sick frequently, lost weight and appetite and got herpes but did not know that these were signs of HIV.
“Teachers used to look at me with pity until the head teacher decided to take me for screening, but I was not briefed about my results,” she says.
During her Senior Six vacation Nulu began preparing food alongside the road to raise money to pay for university tuition as her mother could not afford it, but after four months she fell into a coma and was admitted to Mulago hospital for three weeks, spending all she had raised.
Before she was discharged an HIV test was done. When the counselor told her she was HIV positive, she laughed it off, saying it was impossible because she was a virgin, and left the forms at his desk.
A week later she went to another health centre and was again tested for HIV. The truth finally sunk in when she was given results confirming her positive status.
She rushed to her aunt’s place to break the news. Her aunt told her they had known her status since she was born and advised her mother to reveal the information to her as she grew up but she had refused.
After coming to terms with the news, Nulu decided to be open about her status. She ended her relationship with her boyfriend who was HIV negative and is now with a new partner who was also born with HIV.
“Whenever I am stressed, I run to him and we share our problems,” she says. Nulu says they intend to marry and adopt children who are living with HIV.
The 25-year-old says she wants to help others avoid the suffering she went through. She has completed a counseling and guidance course at Makerere Institute for Social Development and now works as a children’s counselor.
She says: “I have brought smiles to faces of the youth. In all places I have travelled to in Uganda I embrace them, give them hope, encourage them to keep on medication and request to become their friends.”
Sharifah Nabukenya is a Key Correspondent (www.keycorrespondents.org), a global network supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which enables people from communities most affected by HIV to document the realities they and those they know face.