African Press International (API)

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Uganda: Losing fight against HIV

Posted by African Press International on August 25, 2008

Kampala (Uganda) – Four out of every 10 people living with HIV in Uganda do not have access to drugs that would keep them alive and healthy and the country is losing the fight against the epidemic, a senior government official said yesterday.

Dr Kihumuro Apuuli, the director general of the Aids Commission, the government agency that coordinates the countrys response to the epidemic, said despite reducing HIV prevalence rates from highs of 30 per cent in the early 1990s, more Ugandans are becoming infected each year.

Uganda used to be a champion in HIV prevention, but now we are doing poorly, Dr Kihumuro said. When HIV patients take ARVs and become better, they relax and start playing sex carelessly which has increased our infection rate.

Speaking to journalists after returning from the recently-concluded World Aids conference in Mexico, Dr Kihumuro said Uganda, Kenya, Senegal and Thailand were some of the countries found to be backsliding in HIV prevention.

He revealed that about six per cent of Ugandans living with HIV have partners who are HIV negative and called on such discordant couples to seek joint health advice.

Dr Kihumuro said: When a man tests for HIV and finds out that he is positive, he decides to go and kill a wife as we have been reading in the press. This is dangerous because the woman might be negative. To be sure, couples are advised to go together for treatment because they can access counselling on how to live together if one is found HIV negative and the other positive.

He said scientists at the conference agreed that, while it would be challenging to find an HIV vaccine, the phenomenon of discordant couples provides research opportunities to explain why some people do not get infected despite being exposed to the virus.

We must quickly scale-up prevention measures and promote earlier diagnosis and treatment of HIV as a strategy to yield prevention benefits at population level, Dr Kihumuro said.

About two million people are living with HIV in Uganda, including about a million who require access to anti-retroviral therapy. However, only 125,000, of whom 13,000 are children, have access to the life-prolonging drugs while four out of 10 people who require the drugs do not have access.

The official revealed that despite an aggressive campaign by the government and NGOs to increase access to treatment for Aids patients, HIV treatment in Uganda is being outpaced by the rising number of infections.

By 2000, Uganda was regarded as a model for Africa in the fight against HIV and Aids due to strong government leadership, broad-based partnerships and effective public education campaigns which all contributed to a decline in the number of people living with HIV between 2000 and 2004.

However, debate over the best strategy, which pitted pro-abstinence and faithfulness supporters against those in favour of condom use and growing complacency, is putting the countrys gains against HIV and Aids at risk.

Dr Kihumuro said that Uganda needs to rethink and re-energise its HIV prevention campaigns targeting individual and community reforms. He said: Deliberate effort should be made to ensure participation of and adequate consultations with population groups perceived to be at higher risk of infection to help them clearly understand the structural vulnerability factors.


API/Source.Daily Monitor (Uganda), by Gerald Bareebe

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