Saturday January 18 2014

We need concerted effort to fight HIV/Aids

By Rose Namayanja

President Museveni last year officially renewed the government campaign against Aids when he took an HIV check publically. The same was done by several leaders across the country. Total eradication of HIV/Aids is one of the Millennium Development Goals that Uganda must achieve by 2015.

MDG six requires each of the 189 United Nations member states to have taken big steps towards combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases. Uganda is one of these countries. But this time I will focus my discussion on HIV/Aids.

So far, we are on track towards achieving this MDG. However, the campaign against HIV/Aids needs our concerted effort at individual, community and national level. Some of the stories running in the media are really embarrassing to our country.

In September last year, the media was awash with stories of ARVs supplied freely by the government to people living with HIV/Aids being used to fatten pigs. This is so unfortunate!
In other parts of the country it is a big struggle as the government tries to ensure that all the people living with HIV/Aids can access these drugs and live longer. But in Oyam District, the residents mix ARVs with animal feeds to fatten pigs so that they can grow bigger and sell them at higher prices.

The good news is that we have tasked the district health officers and the secretaries for health to sensitise the people on the dangers of skipping drugs or using them in animals (Daily Monitor of September 22, 2013).

This is a big setback to our fight against the scourge, where we are supposed to avail ARVs to the more than 90 per cent of the people living with HIV/Aids. In Uganda, between 1.2 - 1.5 million people are estimated to be living with the virus (Millennium Development Goals Report for Uganda 2013). The MDG progress report indicates that the share of the population with advanced HIV receiving ARVs has increased from 44 per cent in 2008, to 54 per cent in 2009, 50 per cent in 2010 and reached 62 per cent in 2012. This is a remarkable progress. Figures indicate that whereas 577,000 people need ARVs, only 310,000 access treatment.

But the government through the Ministry of Health and other departments is trying to ensure that ARVs are easily accessible to the grassroots citizens. However, Ugandans should also know that the government does not have resources to follow each person to their homes to make sure that they swallow the pills.

And this where I call for concerted effort. For instance, family members could take it upon themselves to make it a point that in case there is any victim of HIV/Aids, the pills are taken on time and that such individuals do not engage in activities like smoking or alcoholism.

Other statistics from the Uganda Aids Commission have indicated that the highest percentage of infections occur in people reporting multiple sexual partners. There is no way the government is going to stop an individual from getting several partners! It is through the citizens themselves committing to a single partner that we can reverse the 37 per cent of infections brought about by unfaithfulness.

The government has also tried as much as possible to ensure that there are free condoms in all parts of the country. Shockingly, an HIV-positive woman comes out to confess that she has slept with more than 80 men, some of them without using a condom. More shocking is that even when this woman tried to advise the men to use a condom, they ignored her and had unprotected sex! Definitely, the government cannot follow each and every couple to their bedrooms.

The national prevalence rate is at 7.3 per cent but can be reduced only if all citizens realised that HIV/Aids is real and joined government efforts to fight the scourge.
I would encourage all political leaders, leaders of NGOs, schools, churches, families and all other communities to take up President Museveni’s example and include HIV/Aids prevention and treatment measures in all their communication messages at all levels.

This method has ever been used in the past and it surely yielded positive results. In light of the nurse at Victoria Medical Centre reported to have injected a baby with her HIV-positive blood, we are calling upon medical practitioners to be professional while parents should take extra care and critically look out for genuine medical workers. They should not entrust their children with strangers.
For God and My Country.

Ms Namayanja is the Minister of Information and National Guidance.