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Across Africa In 21 Days

KAMPALA, Mar 15 - For long, Uganda has been known world over as the flag bearer of the anti-HIV/AIDS crusade.

Having dramatically reversed the rate of infection and checked the spread of the virus using a combination of strategies, Uganda has been hailed for showing that correct policies and determined leadership can reverse an otherwise hopeless situation and offer hope to the infected and the entire human race.

The Ugandan approach has left an indelible message that while there is no cure for Aids, its spread can be checked.

This is the message which the Uganda Bikers' Association (UBA), will carry along as they ride their bikes for about 6,000 kms from Johannesburg to Kampala, in a marathon ride code named "The HIV/Aids Awareness Motorcycle Challenge".

In 2003, a similar activity dubbed "The Wild Track", took the bikers through the ragged roads and tracks of Uganda Kenya and Tanzania.

By the end of the ride, they had raised Shs 9million.

This time round, the Uganda Biker's Association, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Ernest & Young and other partners, have organised another HIV/Aids awareness ride, covering 5,800 km, from Johannesburg, through Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and ending up in Uganda.

The 2003 ride, whose proceeds were used to cater for school fees for 45 school children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Mbuya Parish, was just but the first step in a series of charitable activities the Uganda Biker's Association intends to undertake.

This time, the bikers are targeting to raise US $ 7,500 (about Shs 15million) and excess money raised will be forwarded to Uganda Women's Efforts to Save Orphans (UWESO).

The Ugandan bikers who are joining the rest of the crew in South Africa, were seen off at Entebbe International Airport on Wednesday February 25, by the State Minister for Health (Primary Health Care), Mr Alex Kamugisha.

He described the riders as special volunteers who are complimenting government in the fight against Aids.

"This is a special type of sport with an additional purpose. As the riders move, they will educate the people about HIV/Aids," Kamugisha said.

Apart from the five bikers who were seen off by the minister, another group had early in the week travelled by road.

Last Saturday, the bikers congregated at the Ernest & Young building in Illovo, Johannesburg, where they conducted a presentation on HIV/Aids, before they were flagged of by popular South African crooner, Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

So, on Chaka Chaka's word, the ride started. The bikers are expected to arrive in Kampala on March 21, to a great reception.

Armed with one support vehicle, one trailer and drums of determination, the 15 participants, 12 of them riding motorcycles, will climb the hills, descend valleys and ply the plains of the African wilderness.

They include Pietro Averono, Valentino Salvatore and Atillio Beltramini (Italians), John Montgomery and David Major (Canadian) as well as Petrus Coetzee (South African) and David Slain (Irish), Patrick Bahemuka, Kani Kibirige, Francis Kirago and Joseph Ssenyonga (Ugandan) and the Bikers' president, Bernie Runnebaum (American).

The technical support team includes Eremegio Okia and Mohammed Rwakishaya, with Francis Runnebaum as the expedition photographer.

The Ugandan bikers were recently accredited as ambassadors of hope by the Ministry of Health because the ministry believes they will showcase Uganda's experience in fighting Aids and raise funds for children orphaned by Aids.

Speaking before departure for South Africa, the Uganda Bikers Association President, Mr Bernie Runnebaum said the riders would publicise Uganda's experience and encourage the governments of the countries they will travel through to open up and face the challenge head on.

He also said the riders would preach abstinence, safe sex and behavioural change as the best combination to fight the disease.

"The message we shall disseminate is that if you don't choose A (Abstinence), B (Be Faithful) or C (Condom), then you get D (Death)", said Runnebaum.

The bikers will ride through Gaberone, Francistown and Nata (Botswana), Livingstone, Victoria Falls, Lusaka, Serenje, and Isoka (Zambia) before crossing into Mbeya, Iringa, Dar es Salaam and Moshi (Tanzania).

From Tanzania, they will cross to Nairobi and Eldoret (Kenya) before crossing over to Uganda through Malaba, Jinja and finally Kampala.

Along the way, they will stop at various designated places to distribute condoms and anti-AIDS literature, as well as address residents and pass on their messages.

Founded in 2000 as a fun sport and charity stimulant, the association currently has 15 members consisting of some Ugandan nationals and expatriates.

The ride is supported by WHO and Unaids, and sponsored by various enterprises, including Ernest & Young, Victoria Motors, AIG, World Wide Movers, Kobil, Shoprite, Uganda Tourism Board, South African Airways, Case Medical Centre, WBS TV as well as various individuals who identify with the cause.

by Wafula Bichachi
Source: The Monitor/All Africa Global Media

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