An actor and talented singer, Aloysius Matovu Joy is a famous Ugandan artiste who has battled HIV/Aids for 33 years now.
Matovu suspects to have contacted HIV on the day he broke his virginity, but he is proud of having all his six children HIV-negative, although he has no explanation for it. He says his wife is also HIV-negative and they are living together in a happy marriage.
Matovu, one of Bakayimbira Dramactors’ long-serving actors, says ever since he was confirmed HIV-positive, he has been using a condom and encouraged his family to stay strong and support him.
“I love my family so much and I told my wife and children never to worry since they are all HIV-negative. Since I was confirmed HIV-positive, I have been having antiretroviral therapy (ART) well and my CD4 count rose from 194 to over 1,000 currently,” he says.
Matovu suspects to have acquired the deadly HIV virus in 1985, at 25 years old, while studying at university. He says after few months, he started developing herpes zoster (kisipi in Luganda). Herpes zoster (aka shingles) is one of the symptoms of HIV and can easily attack any part of the body, causing some damage to the skin.
“I think where I lost my virginity is where I picked the HIV virus. Because after sometime, I started seeing HIV symptoms like herpes zoster developing on my left thigh and people had started associating it with HIV,” he says.
Matovu says the herpes zoster was treated and it healed, but it burnt him. In 1986, he completed university and started lecturing Luganda, English and Linguistics at Makerere University.
“In 1987, my mentor Prof Livingstone Walusimbi, recommended me for a master’s degree in Canada because I passed well. But by then, they couldn’t allow anybody to travel to Canada without confirming his or her HIV status,” he says.
Matovu adds, “It was only Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe (UVRI) which was testing HIV. After two weeks, I went back to the institute to pick my results; the doctor just looked at me miserably, shook his head and returned to the laboratory without telling me any word or giving me a document. This was an explanation that I was not going to Canada.”
Matovu went back and told Prof Walusimbi that it looked like he was not going since the doctor tested his HIV status and didn’t say anything to him. So, Walusimbi told him to continue teaching at Makerere University which he did for over 10 years without anything bothering his health.
“I was healthy and had a big body because I was a weightlifter. In the 1990s, I contracted tuberculosis and started weakening and getting constant fevers. I could perform on stage but I was weak and the audience knew that I was HIV-positive although I had not yet confirmed it,” he says.
MATOVU IN UK
During the 2001 presidential elections, Bakayimbira Dramactors had a trip to United Kingdom to perform, and among the people Matovu found there, some were already on HIV medication and they advised him to test and confirm his HIV status since he had serious cough and weak appearance. He was diagnosed HIV-positive and admitted at Newham University hospital in London. They first treated him for tuberculosis and later started him on ART for HIV.
Matovu says it wasn’t easy for him to start daily HIV medication, and fight stigma and discrimination after seeing what his colleagues Philly Lutaaya, Livingstone Kasozi and others had gone through and been judged wrongly by society. However, he managed to open up to his friends Andrew Benon Kibuuka and Charles Ssenkubuge to keep him strong.
“When I started ART, I gained strength but applied to stay in UK since I was still under close monitoring on medication and wasn’t allowed to return. I started teaching English to foreigners to get money. I also started Alina Talents, which aimed at fighting HIV by advocating for HIV prevention through entertainment and encouraged people to use condoms, abstaining, going for circumcision, and taking ART properly,” Matovu says.
He also volunteered with some organisations in UK such as Living Well, Black Liners, London East Aids Network and others also advocating HIV prevention. He says although he was working and got a house in UK, time came and he wanted to return home, where he left his family and also know their HIV status.
“The English people told me, Joseph, which is the name they liked calling me, you have got a status, a house, a car and a job and that is what people from Africa are yawning to get when they come to UK but you want to leave and go back?” they wondered.
“I told them UK is not my home; I have a home in Africa and a big role to play. I wanted to test my family and confirm their HIV status. I took them to Mildmay Uganda and they all tested HIV-negative in 2005,” Matovu says.
To return from UK, he was given a package of drugs to last two years and attached him to Mildmay Center to get drugs after completing that dose. He also wanted to return to his country to sentise people about dangers of HIV. He started counseling people at Mildmay Center and in outreach communities on how to protect themselves against HIV or live positively with Aids.
“My Alina Talents also assists people get school fees, bursaries and counsels people about HIV. However, I lack funding. I wrote to Uganda Aids Commission and USAID to give me funding but they never replied me,” Matovu says.
He says, in UK, he acquired enough knowledge about HIV which he wanted to share with others and also pass on his knowledge on HIV through entertainment although he wasn’t in a hurry to do it.
He says through his Alina Talents Entertainment, he has visited over 50 schools to sensitize learners about the dangers of HIV and advised artistes to avoid living in denial but go for HIV testing, and those positive start on ART immediately to avoid spreading the infection.
MATOVU AND ARTISTES
Matovu says he disclosed after seeing many artistes dying yet they were on medication by not taking drugs properly and they needed close monitoring and counseling.
“Some of them were on medication but not swallowing drugs as they were hiding medicine under the pillow and eventually dying. So, I decided to counsel them. Then after sometime, they could ‘resurrect’ and become healthy,” he says.
Some artistes feared to pick HIV drugs from hospitals and used any doctor to prescribe drugs for them, yet not every doctor can prescribe HIV drugs apart from specialists. Matovu says when he disclosed his status, he didn’t consult his wife or children because it was his life. They didn’t like it, but later supported him.
“I wasn’t prepared for that (disclosing as HIV-positive), but as I was speaking, it came out and I ended up declaring myself as HIV-positive through my experience. However, after declaring, I decided to go ahead and fight the pandemic disease,” he says.
“After disclosing, I wondered how journalists came and interviewed me again. I wondered how they didn’t know that I was living with the virus yet when I was in United Kingdom, I used to post about my health on social media,” he adds.
Matovu says the artistes are not spreading the virus alone but also some of their fans who tip them with cash for singing or acting well and others instead of tipping them money, they give them telephone numbers to call and start relationships.
Matovu advises people especially those in entertainment industry to test and know their status, be faithful to their partners, use a condom and those on medication take it well to suppress the virus. Matovu says he accepted his status and decided to live positively by adhering to life-saving drugs.
MATOVU AND LUTAAYA
Matovu is the second famous artiste in Uganda to declare to the world as being HIV-positive. In 2015, he was invited as a guest speaker by Reproductive Health Uganda at World Aids day commemoration in Kasese.
In 1988, Matovu’s friend Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, the darling Sweden-based Ugandan singer, made international news when he announced in the newspapers that he had the HIV virus, at the time when HIV was at the highest peak of killing people since there were no antiretroviral drugs.
He says Lutaaya, who died on December 15, 1989, disclosed with the intention to inform the world that the virus was on rampage; though he did this to save many people and he sacrificed his pride and respect, he became a laughing stock.
“People thought that Lutaaya was trying to get money, just like how artistes say that they have been kidnapped to capture fans’ attention. Lutaaya was my good friend; we have ever worked together in music. He told us that many women were not accepting his assertion that he is HIV-positive. They thought he disclosed to make money and he also didn’t want to share his dollars with them,” Matovu says.
Matovu says in the 1980s, when the HIV was on rampage, people could run from Kasensero landing site after losing their lovers and come to Kyotera town; when they get known as HIV-positives, then they run to Masaka town, then to Kampala city and afterwards disappear to UK, due to stigma.
Matovu was born on June 21, 1960 at Kumbu village, Masaka and studied at St Mary’s College Kisubi, Kampala High School and Makerere University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, specialising in Luganda and Linguistics. He joined drama in 1979, under Kampala Bakayimbira Dramactors. He was picked to join drama by David Katendeto who appreciated his music talent.