Ignorance is bliss, unless it kills you…
During the 8-hour plane journey to Uganda, I had a lot to think about! How I was going to conduct myself? What version of Sandra was I going to display for the next 5 weeks? And why I wasted money on those shorts that I won’t be able to wear on the street because they’re way too short.
It wasn’t long before I was playing sociologist and trying to identify the differences and similarities between my peers in Kampala and London. I informally explored the attitudes some young Ugandans had towards sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. “If it isn’t HIV or AIDS, then it’s no big deal, right?” This is what echoed through university campuses that I visited in Uganda.
“The treatable infections are not an issue here. In fact there are youths that have STIs and are aware but don’t get treatment because they know they can deal with the problem anytime,” explains Zedrick, a student in Kampala. “I have friends that have had these treatable STIs and all they say is ‘yeah there is pain but since the disease is treatable who cares’”.
In Uganda, drugs that are needed to treat STIs are not as freely available as they are in the UK. If someone with an STI knows they can get treatment, but money is an issue, they might put off going to a doctor to get a prescription and prioritise their money elsewhere.
Young people were so consumed with the fear of death, that they had ignored all the other possible STIs that could also affect their health, fertility, and sexual relationships.
One student I spoke to had never even heard of chlamydia, while another was completely unaware of the fact that prolonged infection with this disease could cause infertility.
To a certain extent Ugandan culture discourages the conversations about sex that need to take place between parents and their kids.
This brings me on to the concept of a “Senga” (the father’s sister). In Ugandan culture the relationship between a woman and her Senga is an important one. The run up to marriage, traditions, and sex-related questions are directed at them. Mothers tend to shy away from discussing this topic with their daughters and present concerns to Sengas for them to discuss.
From my experience with my Senga, abstaining from pre-martial sex is promoted instead of discussing contraception and STIs.
Turning a blind eye to the real issues that young people are facing and ignoring the fact that many are already sexually active is counterproductive. Many young Ugandans are not adequately prepared for sex. Improving communication in our households could effectively make a change and help to protect generations to come.