When I sat down to talk with Joel Arimadri Tivua in the 6-by-10 foot office he shares with two others coordinating the AIDS program at Uganda's Kuluva Hospital, I didn't expect to hear good news. One of the main reasons that AIDS has so devastated Africa is that there has been little awareness or understanding of the virus or its causes - especially in rural areas such as this, in the rolling tobacco fields of northwest Uganda.
"In African culture, it is a taboo to talk about sex," Tivua explains. "As a result, children are not exposed to their sexual rights."
In Uganda, this lack of education about the possible consequences of sexual activity has resulted in the highest number of reported AIDS cases in Africa - nearly two million in the late 1990s, according to U.N. figures. However, Uganda's government was also the first to respond to the epidemic by engaging religious and traditional leaders and other members of civil society in an effort to confront the crisis at its behavioral roots.
The core of Kuluva's program is the Philly Lutaya Initiative, named after the first Ugandan to openly reveal - in hopes of saving others - that he was HIV-positive. Through this program, people living with HIV/AIDS receive regular check-ups and meet together weekly for support and discussion. They also do outreach at schools, marketplaces, and churches, and even have a weekly broadcast on the local Christian radio station, giving testimonies about how they acquired the virus, how they are living with it, and how to prevent it.