A HIV-themed beauty pageant is one way through which Uganda is trying to fight the irrational fear of AIDS that fuels discrimination.
Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV & AIDS is the civic group which put together the pageant. It’s aim is for more people living with HIV to open up about their status and not hide it.
Uganda has a high rate of infected people with HIV. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the HIV prevalence rate stands at 7.1 percent (2015) among adults aged 15 to 49.
This year’s pageant winner is an 18-year-old whose mother used to discourage from swallowing antiretroviral medicines in the presence of strangers or relatives.
Tryphena Natukunda got crowned Miss Young Positive during the colorful event at a Kampala hotel on Sunday. She came top against nine other contestants in the annual competition.
Physical attributes or special talents of the contestants were not in contention at this event but rather their knowledge of HIV, including basic questions such as the meaning of HIV, was tested.
The teenager will now become a roving ambassador in the fight against AIDS.
One of the organizers, Lovinka Nakayiza, discussed the motivation behind the event. She said:
“In Uganda, many young people die not because they do not take their medicine. It’s just because the stigma and discrimination around them hindered them from taking their medicine well.”
“Our family members discriminate against us because they think HIV moves on our faces when we touch their cups, when we talk to them.”
Nakayiza further added that the beauty pageant was inspired by a wish to do something new in the AIDS prevention movement instead of holding workshops, which are boring to young people.
According to Nakayiza, previous winners of the event have spent time speaking at schools and other public places.
Connecting with people in the same situation helps victims deal better with the situations they face. A similar competition for young men facing stigma and discrimination is also held.