Commentary

Uganda is making progress in response to HIV/Aids

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By Vinand M. Nantulya

Posted  Thursday, August 28   2014 at  01:00

In Summary

Government, our development partners and the programme implementers are aiming higher and higher. This year alone, we plan to put another 240,000 patients on anti-retroviral treatment.

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Anxiety has been raised recently by the UNAIDS global report on the status of the epidemic, which was comparing the number of new infections in 2005 to that in 2013.

This analysis clearly showed that in Uganda, the number of new infections in 2013 was much higher than that of 2005.

This, we already knew. Uganda is now dealing with the second wave of the epidemic, which started around 2002.

However, the report did not go further to look at the progress Uganda has made in tackling the second wave of the epidemic.

President Museveni commented on the progress we are making in a speech given on this year’s Budget Day. The message from the President was that Uganda was beginning to make positive gains in the fight against the second wave of the epidemic as shown in the chart (right).

As can be seen in the chart, Uganda was once the beacon of hope in how HIV/Aids can be controlled, with a marked decline in the number of new infections recorded each year.

The key factor for this success was the remarkable decline in the practice, among both the men and women, of engaging in sex with several partners, driven by “zero grazing” campaign.

Unfortunately, the epidemic later got out of control and new infections started to rise from 2001, driven by the return of the behaviour of sex with several partners.

This reversal of sex behaviour, most pronounced among males, was due to the high degree of complacency about HIV infection caused by focus on treatment and the lopsided investment in biomedical interventions to the near-exclusion of sex behaviour interventions.

Thus it came as no surprise that the number of new infections rose again, reaching levels observed in 1990.

This situation was extremely worrying. Uganda responded bravely by developing and implementing a new HIV/Aids Strategic Plan (2011-2015) and an aggressive HIV Prevention Strategy (2011-2015).

These efforts have begun to yield positive results. The number of new infections reported for 2013 dropped to 137,000 compared to 170,000 recorded in 2011 (19.4 per cent drop); the number of new babies born with HIV dropped to less than 8,000 in 2013 compared to 26,000 in 2011(69 per cent drop).

In some specific programmes such as the HIV/Aids outreach programme run by the Mbuya Catholic Church in Kampala, no baby has been born with HIV in the last three years. I congratulate the gallant mothers for their determination to have their babies born without HIV; the husbands for standing up to support their partners; the supporting mothers for encouraging your colleagues to accept and adhere to treatment; the staff for commitment to serve fellow citizens; to the United States Government for support to this programme; and the First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni, for most ably championing this drive to eliminate, nationwide, transmission of HIV to newborn babies.
It is heartening also that the number of people currently enrolled on anti-retroviral treatment has increased dramatically. By end of last year, it stood at 577,000. In 2013 alone, 193,000 patients were initiated on treatment.

Thus for the first time in our country, the number of patients placed on treatment in one year exceeded the 137,000 new infections recorded in the same year. Epidemiologists regard this as the tipping point in our renewed war on HIV/Aids.

Government, our development partners and the programme implementers are aiming higher and higher. This year alone, we plan to put another 240,000 patients on anti-retroviral treatment.

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