Winners crowned in beauty contest for young Ugandans with HIV

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Kampala (dpa) – The king fell to his knees when crowned out of joy while the queen vowed to encourage her subjects to fulfil their capabilities.

Silas Lubangakere and Robina Babirya were crowned Friday night as the winners of a Ugandan beauty contest open to young people living with the HIV virus.

Teenagers gathered around catwalks in a music-filled hall in Kampala to hear the names of Miss and Mister Y+, or “youth positive,” who are to become nationwide ambassadors in the fight against the virus and its stigma.

Babirya, 22, won the women’s title. “I feel so humbled, and I cannot believe that I have won,” she said.

Babirya, who was born with HIV, vowed to “identify with the young population which faces discrimination and stigma and to make them aware of their potential.”

“I am filled with happiness,” her male counterpart, 21-year old undergraduate Lubangakere, said after his crowning.

The pageant is open to candidates 16 to 25 and is now in its second year.

The winners are expected to join in efforts to fight discrimination against people living with HIV, which causes AIDS, and to fight the spread of the infection.

“The winners will be ambassadors in the struggle against AIDS,” said Jackie Alesi, executive director of the National Association of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS (UNYPA), which organized the pageant.

She said they will receive training and support for their new roles, which will take them to events across Uganda, from visits to regional AIDS control projects to talk shows.

Runner-up Daniel Owino will join them on their campaign. The 19-year-old said, “I was born with HIV, and I faced discrimination and stigma in the schools I went to and in the society I lived in.”

An estimated 1.5 million people are infected with HIV in the East African nation, according to the UN programme dedicated to fighting HIV and AIDS.

Last year, the Health Ministry recorded 137,000 new infections, half of which were among people under 25.

People living with HIV can control the virus through medication, preventing the onset of AIDS and allowing them to lead a normal life.

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