Niganile Kilema: Fighting HIV with all means
IN a crowded pub in the middle of the city, people laugh loudly as they enjoy their drinks. They seem to enjoy themselves as they chat through the night. As they continue, the barman suddenly makes an announcement: There is a lady who wants to speak with them and seeks their attention. The crowd listens as the lady approaches the front and makes her case…
Niganile Kilema is a well-known person in the pubs of Mbeya City. She works for KIHUMBE, a local NGO dealing with prevention of HIV/AIDS with the support from the American people. She talks to people, educates them on how to prevent themselves from getting infected, and even goes beyond her duties by giving them a hand in whatever they might need.
“When I was educating men about the important of circumcision, they were very hesitant about it because they believed that the foreskin that is removed is used for either witchcraft during building the roads, or even cooked and sold as a delicacy,” she explains. But in order to help them get those beliefs out of their heads, she had to do something about it.
“I decided to go with a group of men to the Mbeya referral hospital and the doctor there showed them how the foreskin is being burnt after circumcision. At least that made them believe in the process, and many of them are now circumcised,” she says.
Niganile has a day job with KIHUMBE, which involves her spending the whole day in a moving gazebo, where a lot of people visit and ask questions about HIV and prevention. But she is well known for her efforts of doing more than just her day job, since as soon as she leaves work at 4.40pm, she goes to places where she is sure to find lots of people.
“That is why I visit pubs, markets, meeting areas and places like that. I find people there, speak with them about preventing themselves from being infected, including male circumcision, and even escort those who want to be circumcised but are afraid of going alone,” she explains.
Niganile says that she loves her job because it gives her a chance to interact with a lot of people, especially youth, as she does not want them to get infected by HIV. She believes that she has contributed to making a difference in the society since more and more people are aware of the pandemic.
“Even my parents are proud of me and my job,” she says. “People come to our home and ask for me, and my parents are very supportive in accommodating them even when I am not there. A lot of people come back and thank me for the knowledge I have imparted to them, and it makes me love this job even more.”
For Niganile, the fight against HIV is a serious battle. Mbeya has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country, and she wants to be part of history in making sure that this percentage goes down. And with the way she is going, she will surely be in the history books as one of the city’s heroes.