Ugandan Runners Fear Widespread HIV Outbreak

Ex-coach revealed as positive, infected at least three

May 7, 2015
Outside Magazine
Ugandan Runners Fear Widespread HIV Outbreak

Moses Kipsiro (center) told the Daily Monitor that he suspects many Ugandan runners may have been infected with HIV, originating from a prominent coach.    Wikimedia Commons

Peter Wemali, the former coach of the Ugandan national junior running team, was arrested on April 15 and is now standing trial for defiling, or having sexual relations with, three girls whose ages range between 15 and 17, according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor. He is accused of forcing young runners to have sex with him in exchange for preferential treatment.

It was revealed in court on April 30 that Wemali is HIV-positive and has infected at least three other women, the Daily Monitor reports. Those women have themselves gone on to other relationships with elite distance runners in the country, and now there is fear that a widespread HIV outbreak is present in some of the world’s best distance runners.

“I know of many senior male runners who have unknowingly shared girlfriends with Mr. Wemali,” Moses Kipsiro, a 2007 World Championships bronze medalist, told the Daily Monitor. “Some are even married to runners that once had affairs with him.”

Kipsiro was first to speak out about the issue in March 2014, when young female runners approached him with complaints of Wemali’s sexual harassment during a training camp. One woman, speaking to the Daily Monitor, alleged that Wemali would come to her room and wake her up in the middle of the night, threatening to chase her from the camp if she didn’t comply with his demands. “On some days, he would call one or two of us to his nearby house,” she said. “If you refused to do what he wanted, he would beat you up.”

On Tuesday, Kipsiro called for widespread testing among the country’s best runners. “I am going to mobilize the elders to meet with all athletes and ask them to test for HIV,” he told the Daily Monitor. “It’s then that we will know the extent of the problem and see how to help the infected ones.” 

The UAF, in a statement on Tuesday to the Daily Monitor, said that they currently do not have any systems in place to support HIV-positive runners.

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