The year was 1982 when the first cases of AIDS were identified in Uganda. However, it was not until 1986 that the new Government came up with a vibrant campaign against HIV and AIDS. The drum was heard on the radio, in 1989 Philly Lutaaya publicly declared he was HIV positive and a small group of people affected and infected by HIV started meeting in Mulago Referral Hospital.
This small group included a radiographer, physiotherapists, doctors, nurses, patients and their families. They met informally on the ward and at their homes. Eventually, they were given a room in which they met to share ideas, unburden to each other and offer comfort to those who needed it. The small group became a family united by a common enemy. This is the foundation on which The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) was built.
In 1987, the small group had grown. While more patients were registered, Dr. Elly Katabira opened the first Immuno Suppression Syndrome (ISS) clinic where Mama Noerine Kaleeba together with the other founder members discovered the need for them to be equipped with counseling skills. They were supported by ActionAid Uganda to be trained them in counseling.
Calling on the spirit of voluntarism and selflessness, the members started reaching out to other patients in Mulago Hospital, in the communities in which they lived and their places of work.
From an almost unknown informal group, word spread all over the country that a new organization was offering hope to those suffering from AIDS. It was built on the following values:
Human Dignity: To uphold the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and believe in living positively and dying with dignity.
Obligation to people infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS: Commitment to the creation of an enabling environment and to facilitating the provision of quality care to the people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Equal rights, shared responsibilities, equal opportunities: To ensure that people should be protected from stigma and discrimination, regardless of their sero-status.
Family spirit: To promote unity, mutual support and concerted action of all stakeholders.
Integrity: Honesty, transparency and accountability must be achieved if we are to gain and retain the confidence of the service beneficiaries and partners.
Action AID Uganda offered TASO the first support for counseling and health care services. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Health and TASO where a room off the Polio clinic was given to TASO to carry out its services.
TASO centers were then started in various parts of the country-operating within the vicinity of government hospitals; beginning with training of existing healthcare workers. These were Masaka in 1988, Tororo and Mbarara in 1989, Mbale in 1990, Entebbe and Jinja in 1991. By this time the majority of healthcare workers within these hospitals had been trained in HIV counseling and clinical care for AIDS patients and their families. Communities were also being sensitized on how to care for their members and how to protect themselves against HIV.By 1991, after the organization was registered as a Non-Governmental Organization; it started offering counseling, medical, home care services and material assistance to clients. A Day Center was set up where clients met and supported each other while they waited for services. This year also saw the formation of the AIDS Challenge Youth Club, a group made up of children of clients and a few of their friends. They went out to carry out peer education of adolescents and youth in schools and other youth clubs.
In 1992, TASO trained the first HIV counselors in Uganda and also rolled out its services into the communities. In 1993, TASO adopted music, dance and drama as a way of community education and sensitization. People living with HIV/AIDS receiving care from TASO were voluntarily taking up the challenge of using their experiences to appeal to the community to stop stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV or AIDS to avoid contracting HIV. Communities were taught about HIV transmission and prevention, how to live positively with HIV and the services they could receive at a TASO Center.
The introduction of Aromatherapy and reflexology to the TASO package of care services to its clients began in 1994. It was during this year that TASO began offering services in Arua Hospital-testing out the model of “TASO like initiative” within a public health facility.
In 1995, several milestones were made such as a training curriculum of HIV/AIDS counselors was developed and TASO began training counselors. This year will always be remembered as the historical year when the TASO Founder and first Executive Director of TASO handed over leadership to Ms. Sophia Mukasa – Monico. TASO also began to air programmes on “Living Positively” on the radio.
In 1997, TASO became one of the first organizations to incorporate stress management into its programmes.
During 1999, TASO started the community outreach programme. Through this programme TASO was able to take the services that it offered at the Services Centers to specific places in the communities where clients could easily access them. This cut down on the costs they incurred to travel to the Service Centers.
It was not until 2000 that TASO was able to respond to the needs of children affected by HIV in a systemic manner by initiating the Child Survival program for Orphans and Vulnerable children, and in 2001 a systematic approach to improving nutrition for PLH/A was added to the TASO comprehensive package. This year also saw the expansion of the Community initiative with support for apprenticeship and Income Generating Activities.
Members of the TASO Drama group in Mulago center were the first within the TASO family to benefit from the life saving Antiretroviral drugs-supported by a well wisher. Entebbe and Tororo clients received their first Antiretroviral drugs in 2003. While the rest of the TASO Centers rolled out Antiretroviral Therapy in 2004. Peadiatric ART was started in 2005.
2006 ushered in the years of consolidation and accountability. From 2007, programmes such as research on discordance and sero conversion, strengthening of HIV counseling training, offering experiential attachments and internship came on board.
By 2011, TASO had eleven centers, had carried out several research projects, shared out knowledge with various stakeholders both national and international.
It is especially important to note that before the coming of ARVS, clients survived mostly on the Positive Living philosophy. Before the introduction of ARVs in TASO, clients were encouraged to “Live positively. This meant that they had to take care of themselves and those around them to share whatever time they had left and also to prepare to die in dignity. Although, TASO still encourages clients to live positively, it now encourages them to live healthy, stress free lives to avoid premature death.
Within the next 25 years, TASO is committed to contributing to the National prevention goal to reduce HIV incidence and also contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of PWA by mitigating the health effects of HIV and AIDS. TASO also reaffirms its commitment to work with the Government of Uganda and the entire nation to achieve a world without HIV.
As we celebrate 25 years of great service, we would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all those who stood by us during these years and to encourage our clients and everyone else to keep the candle burning.