Ray Besiga

A belated World AIDS Day message

Global Health Corps

Hey folks,

Sunday marked the 25th Anniversary of World AIDS Day. A day on which people worldwide unite in the fight against HIV, remember friends and loved ones lost, and laud humanity’s efforts to combat the scourge. In many ways, it is a sign of maturity on my part that I get to remember this special day. I was not always this way. Heck, I hardly knew anything about HIV/AIDS, save from music by the late Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, the first prominent Ugandan to give a face to HIV/AIDS. And stories others told. The story of how I got acquainted with it begun about two and half years ago.

After a brief stint working in the telecommunications engineering field in early 2011, I was feeling largely uninspired, and bored out of my mind. I needed something challenging and exciting to channel my energy and time into. Baby-sitting a telco network was not gonna be it, I needed a career change. As luck would have it, I came across a random tweet about the Global Health Corps, a fellowship with the goal of mobilizing a global community of emerging leaders to build a movement for health equity. Sure, sign me up! Oh wait, I knew nothing about public health! Seems like they knew that majority of the applicants do not necessarily have a public health background, but they had a contingency plan. As it turns out, anyone who met the requirements could be a fit based on their personal and professional background.

There is no single experience, background, quality or skill that makes someone the “right” candidate for the fellowship. Rather, we are looking for outstanding individuals who are seeking to apply their skills and their passion for health equity to a lifelong community of global changemakers. Global Health Corps

First forward two months later, I’m a lecture hall at Yale University, Connecticut ready to learn the basic tenets of public health from some of the gloabl leaders in the field. Happiness! And as it turned out, I was sorrounded by some of the most inspired, engaged and intelligent people I have met yet. Even more happiness! Over the next two weeks, my mindscape was terraformed for public health (if that sort of thing can happen). I learned about social justice, empathetic design and medical anthropology from the field’s great champions like Noerine Kaleeba and Ambassador Mark R. Dybul.

I mean, everybody should have access to medical care. And, you know, it shouldn't be such a big deal. Dr. Paul Farmer

I started to feel a change within me. I started to see the glaring need for equity, especially in access. Access, sadly, is about privilege. As a global community that forsook ourselves and turned from a market economy to a market society, access was inevitably going to be about inequality. Access to information, health, financial services. It’s what defines the gap between the haves and have-nots.

I felt the need to do something. What could i do for the social justice cause? What could I do to alleviate the plight of those at the bottom of the pyramid? The lessons learned during my orientation period at Yale asserted that there was a role for me. I could make a wholesome contribution if my heart was set to it, and I believe I gave it my best. 12 months pf tough fulfilling work. Teaching health workers from all over rural Uganda how to use computers, and subsequently getting them to use an online learning management system for their continuous medical education. Designing prototype websites for my placement, the Infectious Diseases Institute. Contribution to a location-based web dashboard to track statistics of the Safe Male Circumcision campaign. These are but some of the activities I partook. I was happy, still am. However, this particular article is not about me, its about you. What can you do for the social justice cause, and the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Here’s a few ideas, in case nothing comes to mind. DONATE! If nothing else, donate to causes that support people living with HIV/AIDS in your community. The AIDS Support Organization does great work for the positively living all over Uganda. Mildmay Uganda supports people in 18 districts around Uganda, including 500 children at their resident clinic. It is quite shocking, but care costs UGX 50,000 per child per day. That amounts to $10,000 per day in total. They could use some support.

If you are hands on, then I cannot recommend the Global Health Corps fellowship enough. The application process is now open and you should definitely take a look at the placements! It changed my career path and I am better for it. I now run a bespoke software development shop, but with a social justice mindset at the base of it all.

Global Health Corps

And lastly, on a personal note, we miss you Uncle Anselm. You succumbed to HIV/AIDS, but our memories of you are fresh as a roadside watermelon. I will do my part to ensure more people have access, building tools to that effect. I hope everyone else does their part too. Happy belated World AIDS Day everyone!

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