Uganda: “It is Essential to Give Everyone an Opportunity to Speak for Themselves”

May 17, 2017

KAMPALA, UGANDA — Earlier this year, I was reading a report that includes various statistics on health in Uganda. In it, I learned that fishermen and sex workers in fishing communities have a high risk of contracting HIV. I was instantly curious as to why and how these two groups of people were in this situation.

My investigation first brought me to the internet, where I discovered that not much has been written about HIV in these communities. But what struck me the most was that the minimal information I could find on the topic did not include the voices and perspectives of the fishermen and sex workers themselves. Based on these scant resources, a distant observer might be quick to blame these groups for contracting the virus, perhaps by saying they are prone to irresponsible behavior. I didn’t consider this to be fair because as a Global Press reporter I know it is essential to give everyone an opportunity to speak for themselves.

So I left my hometown of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and set out for the fishing community of Masaka, braving the over two-hour trip atop a motorcycle while traversing bumpy and dusty roads.

The Masaka fishermen volunteered information easily. They were open and honest about their working conditions, and it became clearer to me how a variety of factors might have caused this high prevalence of HIV transmission.

They told me that life as a fisherman was riskier and more dangerous to them than living with HIV. They told me they fear dying every time they go into Lake Victoria and are less afraid of HIV, citing it as a “slow killer.” But the waters can kill you instantly, they said.

They complete their day’s work early and have many hours to spare. Many of them also live either alone or away from their families. The commercial sex trade has proven to be a lucrative business in these areas. One sex worker told me that she and others come to these shores specifically seeking fishermen because they know many of them are alone and have a steady income.

I set out for the fishing communities with the goal of not only producing an important news story but also learning from unique groups of people. After having conversations with many fishermen and sex workers, even my view of them changed. I never thought to blame them, but I couldn’t have imagined their unique situation. Many have seen their colleagues die in the lake while fishing, and they said one of the ways they celebrate their return from the waters is by seeking the services of sex workers despite knowing they could be infected.

My conversations in Masaka produced a lot of important information on the lives of fishermen and sex workers as well as some actions taking place to find solutions. I am glad that among the reporting on this topic, the feelings and thoughts of these people will now be included and read by many. Despite our different opinions on topics, we as reporters must at minimum allow others to speak for themselves and, as readers, must be willing to consider new perspectives.