World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with the virus and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
In Uganda, Philly Bongoley Lutaaya has definitely dominated the whole month of December for a record period over 30 years now. Lyrics from “Alone”, his HIV & AIDS educational song have created awareness over time. The song has been played on airwaves countless times and widely used in dramas and plays on the subject especially in the 1990s. For his lasting contributions like this aimed at saving people from contracting HIV, Lutaaya will never be forgotten.
During the 1980s, also christened as the “plague years” for HIV/AIDS, the disease was considered a death sentence. There was no known treatment for the virus and HIV/AIDS was negatively stigmatized by the spreading of disinformation and heightened media propaganda, only causing more confusion and fear about the virus. In Uganda, it was linked to witchcraft.
Philly Bongoley Lutaaya was a Ugandan musician who was the first prominent Ugandan to give a human face to HIV/AIDS. When he was diagnosed with HIV, Lutaaya was so shocked and withdrew from his family emotionally. It is said that on that day, he wandered around town until the late hours of the night without telling anyone what was wrong. The thought of death tormented him until he decided to go public. A press conference was organized for him to make his announcement. Fans woke up to New Vision’s blinding headline: Lutaaya has AIDS!
Before dying of AIDS at the age of 38, Lutaaya spent his remaining healthy time writing songs about his battle with AIDS, releasing his last album Alone and Frightened which included his famous song “Alone”. He also toured churches and schools throughout Uganda to spread a message of prevention and hope. For the community of people living with HIV, Lutaaya is a disciple; one from whom a lot can be learnt.
Tezra Lutaaya, one of his daughters in a 2010 interview intimated that the period wore him down; “Because of the music he wanted to release, he did not mind his life anymore; he missed his appointments with the doctors and even his medication.” While he recorded his albums Alone and Tumusinze, his hair had started falling off. A relative intervened by making him a dreadlocks wig. It was mainly because of his family and music that he was in and out of Uganda all the time.
Artists have been ideally regarded as the gatekeepers of truth. Today, artists are a civilization’s radical voice, and the proposition is no exaggeration. As for music’s impact on HIV/AIDS, it’s biggest push forward has come in the form of speaking out and spreading awareness. World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988. Lutaaya will never be forgotten by the fraternity of people living with HIV. He is an icon in HIV&AIDS response.
Here are some of the things that we can learn from the life of Lutaaya;
• Spread the word about HIV&AIDS, educate, sensitize as many people as you can about all factors to do with HIV&AIDS, how it is contracted, the fact that there is treatment if positive and one can live positive healthily.
• Do not stigmatize people living with HIV because anyone can be infected with HIV. If it is not you, it can be someone so close to you that it might as well be you.
• Encouraged more people to go public about their HIV status because by putting a human face to HIV in our various communities, many more people living with HIV have embraced positive living.
• He also teaches us that it is important to know your HIV status and that if you do not test for HIV then you are allowing HIV&AIDS to thrive.
• According to an interview the New Vision newspaper, when asked if there will ever be a cure for HIV&AIDS, Lutaaya answered that there is a cure. He said the cure lies in the strength of women, families and communities who support and empower each other to break the silence around AIDS and take control of their sexual lives. And even as the scientists continue to find the cure, it goes without saying that the position and role of women in a home and community makes us best placed to help with the fight against this epidemic and women should therefore be at the core of HIV response activities.