Since 1992, Baguma Benon has been supporting the health education and health promotion department as a film van driver with the Uganda Ministry of Health. His experience spans years of awareness creation for the AIDS Control Program when entire populations and families were wiped out due to misconceptions and myths, to cholera and ebola epidemic information sessions in the most affected regions where no one would ever imagine going, with the biggest incentive to being the lives that needed saving with the right information.
In 2013, Benon took on a daunting assignment promoting Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) services with the USAID SUSTAIN project across the catchment of 11 regional referral hospitals countrywide. This proved to be one of the most difficult health promoting tasks, as interfacing with various communities and individuals who perceived the practice as negative and unacceptable to their cultures resulted in: insults, physical resistance, items thrown at his film van, and criticism from his fellow colleagues who shunned the practice. Despite those barriers, he continued using his megaphone to communicate key messages, in remote and suburban towns, and setting up health promotion sessions with support from village health teams and community mobilizers of VMMC.
“Previously, I hadn’t experienced what VMMC was all about and had a few doubts myself which made it difficult to convince other men, however once I’d done it, I could speak more confidently and extensively about its benefits and I saw how much belief and confidence all the men I reached out to had in me.” Benon says.
While trying to convince men was difficult on its own, finding them was even harder, Benon worked late nights targeting popular places like drinking joints, landing sites and enduring many car breakdowns just to create demand for VMMC services. It’s evident what keeps Benon going in his work despite the challenges as he indicates:
“I worked in an era of a high HIV prevalence and painfully nursed so many of my relatives and friends to the grave and from then I chose to change the lives of the current and future generations through the right information about lifesaving services like VMMC”
From his VMMC mobilization efforts, Benon’s film van has currently been dubbed countrywide as the “circumcision van” in which young men look forward to hearing messages on VMMC and where to receive services.
USAID SUSTAIN nominates Benon Baguma as an unsung hero for leading health promotion and mobilization efforts for Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision and increasing its uptake in Uganda to reduce new HIV infections in the country.