Activist Major Rubaramira Ruranga contracted HIV/AIDS when he was 37 years old but today, at 71 years old, he looks healthy. He’s among the few who have survived with the virus for a long time and was among the many who attended the International AIDS candlelight memorial event, also locally known as the Bonfire last Thursday at Constitutional Square.
In his address to participants, Rubaramira reminisced about the old times when the virus was rampant in Uganda, yet there was no treatment for the virus. Comparing the past to the present, he referred to those times as disastrous.
“Sometimes people get surprised that I’m still alive because indeed many people died. They died because drugs were not there. It was survival for the fittest. And apart from lack of drugs there was the worst discrimination you could ever talk about. People feared being known to have contracted HIV,”he said, adding,“today I have so many reasons to be happy. I got HIV when I was 37. I’m now 71. I have lived a normal life, I have children like any other man and all this because ARVs came so indeed we have to be happy.”
The Candlelight day serves as a community mobilization campaign to raise social consciousness about the epidemic. It also serves as an important intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers of stigma and discrimination, and giving hope to the new generations.
Before the candle light day, the organizers first held an outreach in kisenyi and Katanga where they tasted people, distributed drugs and also screened people for TB while after the candlelight evening, various stakeholders and people matched from the constitutional square from 7am to 10am to hotel Africana where a national dialogue was held.
The first international candlelight Memorial was observed in Uganda in 1988. The AIDS support Organization (TASO) working with the government of Uganda played a key role and mobilized their support groups which mainly comprised of people infected and those infected by AIDS at the time. Since then, Uganda has commemorated the international candlelight memorial as a precursor to world AIDS Day, every year.