In Rakai district near the border with Tanzania they’re burying many young people – male and female.

When I worked briefly in Uganda in the early 1980s I was puzzled by some young men on the ward who were wasting away before my eyes. We tried everything, and I asked a visiting physician for a second opinion, but it was all to no avail. The Ugandans called this illness Slim and soon it was clear that a major new disease was stalking the land like a biblical plague. Controversy surrounded (and still surrounds) its origins and its mode of transmission: theories ranged from contaminated polio vaccine, to an inadvertent leak from a biological warfare laboratory, to the eating of infected monkeys by hunters. How long the disease had been infecting humans before it became widespread is a mystery. In the early 80s there were fears that it could be transmitted by mosquitoes and no one knew if medical staff would all catch it from their inevitable contact with blood.

A paper appeared in Science in August 1982 titled ‘New disease baffles medical community'. The disease’s cardinal feature was its harmful effect on the immune system which rendered the body incapable of protecting itself from normally benign infections. The term AIDS was used for the first time in the United States in 1982 and in May 1983 doctors at the Institute Pasteur in France reported that they had isolated a new virus, which they believed to be the cause of AIDS. It soon became obvious that Slim and AIDS were one and the same.

After a difficult start, due to political sensitivities, the Ugandan government started a frank information campaign to raise awareness on how to reduce risk. This continues to this day with signs such as, ‘Would you trust this man with your daughter? … So why are you with his?’ Education starts early: I recently saw a sign declaring, ‘Virginity is Health’ on the lawns of a primary school.

AIDS has long come off headline news but its effects are continuing to blight the continent. It has resulted in a lost generation in central and southern Africa and orphaned many millions of children.

The last King

'And then Idi Amin came to power. Zachye stayed in the army.’ She cast him a look, as if he would know what that meant.


Another boy tapped his forehead in the place where Hindu women painted their red bindi, and shouted, ‘Bullet hole!’