"Men were hiding and allowing themselves to suffer in stigma," explained Ecegeri Bates Charles as he recalls how the group of HIV positive men started in a northern district in Uganda. Today, the Arua District Males Community Against HIV/AIDS (ADMACHA), supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan), is helping to encourage male involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Even though some support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS existed in 2000 in Uganda, few men participated in these groups or acknowledged that they could be at risk for contracting HIV. In Uganda, HIV/AIDS is primarily spread through heterosexual sexual contact. Unfortunately, women are often blamed for the spread of the virus and subjected to abandonment and even violence as a result.
ADMACHA started as a small group of men who held meetings to encourage more HIV-positive men to disclose their HIV status. Members believed that when neighbors saw a group of men living with HIV together singing songs, joking and laughing, neighbors would realize that the men could live positively with HIV.
Today, members of ADMACHA are helping to encourage other men to become involved in the fight against the virus. Members give dramatic presentations featuring messages about HIV/AIDS at an antenatal clinic on Fridays, reaching out to husbands and male partners of women visiting the clinic. They discuss HIV with the men and with the pregnant women at the hospital, and often visiting the couples at their homes to further discuss the issue.
"If the man is threatening the woman at home or if there is even war at home, we try to intervene as men. It is our job to convince the man to find a more positive way of dealing with the situation," explains Ecegeri Bates Charles, Chairman of ADMACHA.
Additionally, the members of ADMACHA support one another. One member of ADMACHA, Edward, might have died if it were not for the group. After Edward had not attended meetings for two weeks, the men decided that he would be the recipient of their weekly home visit. They found him with no voice and sick with persistent diarrhea. Edward was ashamed for anyone to find him this way, so he had feared to ask for help. The group intervened to help out their friend. They cleaned him and the compound, and found money for transport to take him to the hospital for treatment.
"Wherever we go, we leave an impact," explains Ecegeri Bates Charles. Working together with support from the U.S. Government, members of ADMACHA are helping to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS.
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