Using applied sculpture for HIV prevention and empowerment of young people in Uganda

Researchers have been called upon to increase awareness about HIV among the population. The call was made by Rtd. Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, during the opening of Mr Robert Ssewanyana’s art exhibition that sought to create HIV awareness and prevention in slum areas of Kampala. Maj. Rubaramira said the biggest reason for the increase in HIV is lack of knowledge and information by the population especially in the rural areas.  The exhibition was attended by the Deputy Vice Chancellor (F&A) Dr. Josephine Nabukenya as well as organisations doing HIV treatment and rehabilitation.

Maj. Rubaramira said there was no reason as to why people should contract HIV even if raped. He pointed to the existence of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), an emergency treatment to prevent HIV after exposure. This treatment is given before 72 hours after exposure or rape.

The spread of HIV has been on the rise especially among the young people aged between 15 and 24 years.  This has been due to lack of knowledge about HIV especially among the rural communities. In the urban centres, HIV increase has been attributed to a number of factors, including, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, a thriving commercial sex industry and lack of knowledge of matters relating to the spread of HIV. To this end, Mr Robert Ssewanyana, an artist and lecturer at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art set out to work with communities in an effort to create awareness and prevent the spread of HIV. He worked with communities of Bwaise, Ndeeba and Katwe.

Mr Ssewanyana, as part of his PhD research worked with various people in these communities to create art pieces that inform and educate people about HIV. The art pieces include ‘HIV benches’. These benches can be used for both seating and HIV awareness for they carry messages on how to prevent the spread of the disease.

The exhibition also had art pieces depicting and HIV ward, bed, logos as well as a bicycle drawing attention to the Corona pandemic.

The Rtd. Major condemned people who hide the fact that they have HIV and end up infecting their partners. Through sharing his own story, Maj. Rabaramira said, he had never infected his wife despite having 6 children with her after he was diagnosed with HIV. This he attributed to having knowledge and information about the disease.

He challenged the researcher, Mr Ssewanyana to not only concentrate on urban areas but also take this information to the rule areas because there is stigma and trauma surrounding HIV.

“The concentration in urban areas without going to the rural or from house to house will never stop the spread of HIV. We shall not stop the stigma without uniting people and talking to them,” he said.

Mr. Robert Ssewanyana

He called on all participants to focus on public health rather than medical treatment. He said, if we focus on public health then we can avoid catching disease and therefore will not require medical attention.  

 Major Ruranga added his voice to remind patients to learn how to take medicine, “one should learn how take medicine at the right time. Knowledge is power,” he said.

The Dean of The Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art welcomed and thanked everyone for coming to the research dissemination exhibition. He also thanked Major Rurangaranga Rubaramira for his commitment to fight HIV. He also thanked students, well-wishers and everyone for making the presentation a success.

Story by Betty Kyakuwa & Isaac Abaho