MPT Fellowship: Innovative human-centered story telling spotlights HIV/AIDS globally

In May, the HJN announced the final cohort of fellows selected for the Mercury Phoenix Trust HIV/AIDS Reporting Fellowship. Over the next three months, the fellows participated in exclusive training sessions with subject-matter experts, engaged in a mock newsroom to refine their story pitches, and received individual mentoring and support for the production of their final stories. The fellows produced unique stories that investigated difficult topics relating to HIV/AIDS and systemic social issues in their respective communities. The stories were positively received by audiences and have sparked much needed conversations and change. The HJN is proud to showcase these important and impactful stories!

Despite a Notable Decrease in HIV/AIDS prevalence in Burundi, Stigmatization exists

By Avit Ndayiziga, Burundi

In Burundi, as elsewhere in the world, HIV/AIDS prevalence has significantly declined however, HIV/AIDS stigma remains a hushed reality on the ground among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). A research study on stigma in Burundi published in 2021 reveals that 41.8% of people living with HIV/AIDS face discrimination and 57.2% experience self-stigma, in other words, they feel sorry or bad for themselves. Furthermore, fear of discovery of HIV status leads PLWHA to hide their seropositivity, making it difficult to treat the disease, as stigma has also been associated with non-adherence to ART. In this article, Ndayiziga explores the impact that stigma has on people living with HIV/AIDS. Through interviews with people who have experienced various degrees of stigma and discrimination, he highlights their suffering and that of their children. Ndayiziga, who attended the 12th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Australia in July 2023, quotes UN officials who highlight how stigma and discrimination undermine HIV prevention and treatment programs. UNAIDS officials underscore that overcoming stigma and discrimination requires a multilevel framework that creates an inclusive environment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

This fellowship has been a game-changer for my journalism career. I have not only enhanced my HIV/AIDS reporting knowledge and skills, but I have also linked up with mentors and peers who share a commitment to telling all HIV/AIDS stories to significantly impact its fight. A good story can save lives.

Avit Ndayiziga, Burundi

Sex Behind Bars

By Aletta Shikololo, Namibia

Shikololo’s print article delves into the topic of sexual activity and the spread of HIV/AIDS among the incarcerated population in Namibia. Over a decade ago in Namibia, there was a push by human rights advocates for the distribution of condoms in prisons. However, this proposal was rejected by lawmakers because of laws criminalising same-sex sexual activities. As part of her investigation, Shikololo spoke with both former and current inmates who shared their experiences of living with HIV/AIDS in prison. During her interviews with current inmates, she encountered strict limitations on discussing sexual activities in prison. The issue of HIV/AIDS in Namibian prisons and holding cells remains largely overlooked. Addressing this issue is essential to effectively combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Namibia’s correctional facilities and beyond.

HIV in Costa Rica: A four-part series

By Katherine Stanley Obando, Costa Rica

Obando produced a four-part written series for digital magazine, El Colectivo 506, that took an in-depth look at mental health and HIV/AIDS in Costa Rica. The series tells the stories of 3 residents at a nonprofit HIV/AIDS home for vulnerable populations in the Costa Rican city of Cartago, and, through their experiences, examines the interaction of mental health challenges and HIV treatment in a country renowned for its health care infrastructure. Interviews with Sofía, Alonso, and Miguel, as well as mental health professionals, HIV specialists and more, show that stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS continues to be prevalent, and has a significant impact on the outcomes of patients.

Key Populations Seeking HIV Care Choke on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

By Aaron Ainomugisha, Uganda

On 26th May 2023, President Yoweri Museveni assented to Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA 2023), prompting some organisations and individuals to run to court seeking its annulment amidst mixed local and international reactions. President Museveni described the response as a “war”. In his story, Ainomugisha highlighted the challenges members of Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ community face with accessing HIV/AIDS care. His investigation focussed on western Uganda, but drew connections to other parts of the country.


This fellowship really enabled me to expose the plight of LGBTQIA+ people seeking HIV care after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. More of such fellowships and other interventions are pivotal in the realisation of in-depth and impactful journalism, especially through extensive coverage of the unreported and underreported issues, and breaking negative stereotypes.

Aaron Ainomugisha, Uganda

Bending the HIV Curve

By Laura Otieno, Kenya

After recording a spike in new HIV infections after nearly one decade, the Kenyan government is developing more inclusive HIV prevention technologies, in order to stay on course in the fight against the HIV epidemic. Data from 2021 shows that 53% of new HIV infections were among the adolescent population and that children as young as 9 years are sexuallyactive. Stretching  limited donor funding and scaling up partnerships, Kenya’s Ministry of Health is developing HIV prevention technologies for  adolescents, who have otherwise shown low adherence to existing prevention methods such as condoms and the uptake of PrEP. Legal hurdles prevent the roll out of these new technologies, such as the dapivirine ring to those below the age of 18 years. In this television feature, Otieno speaks with community peer educators, scientists, and representatives of the Kenyan Ministry of Health and examines the push to change the law in order to allow those below the age of 18 access to sexual reproductive health services.


A Stitch in Time Can Save Nine for Zimbabwe

By Catherine Murombedzi, Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, Murombedzi reports on the challenges facing persons living with HIV who are forced to go on second and even third line treatment regimes. The growing number of patients failing HIV treatment is a cause for concern. The most common reason for changing from first line to second or third line treatment is if the first line treatment fails, which can only be determined through viral load testing. While diagnosing HIV is relatively simple, determining treatment failure requires different testing methods, which pose challenges to patients in terms of accessing testing centres, availability of electricity and other logistical difficulties. Her report also examines the national and international funding implications for sourcing second and third line treatment regimes.

Transcending Taboos and Illegality: Pioneering inclusivity in Ghana’s HIV solutions through legalized commercial sex work

By Alex Ababio, Ghana

In Ghana, where over 100,000 individuals remain unaware of their HIV status due to inadequate testing. Female sex workers bear the brunt of stigma, legal barriers, and restricted healthcare access. Ababio’s article underscores the urgency of collective action on a national scale, emphasising the importance of prevention, testing, and treatment for this vulnerable group. Through the lens of Maame Akua’s story, a resilient sex worker who, despite her adversities, becomes an HIV peer educator following her mother’s battle with AIDS, Ababio’s report highlights the global significance of mental well-being and the pivotal role played by NGOs in supporting sex workers worldwide, addressing their mental health needs, and imparting practical skills.

Thanks to the fellowship, I’ve learned that journalism goes beyond facts; it’s about sharing stories that can change lives and inspire hope. This experience has not only improved my skills but has ignited a deep passion for telling impactful stories.

Alex Ababio, Ghana