HIV: A lot still needs to be done
Posted Friday, October 25 2013 at 01:00
This newspaper yesterday carried a startling revelation by a woman living with HIV in Kalangala District, who confessed to sleeping with more than 80 men, most of them without protection. In her confession, she says most of her clients are reluctant to use condoms even when she encourages them.
The spirit of publishing that story was to highlight the challenges that still exist in the fight against HIV/Aids. The national HIV prevalence currently stands at 6.7 per cent, up from 6.4 per cent in 2005. Whereas the prevalence seems to have stagnated, it is still unacceptably high.
The story we published raises some of the pertinent issues about the campaign against HIV/Aids. For example, there are concerns about the efficacy of the condom campaign. Reports abound of people using condoms on the first sexual encounter before abandoning them during subsequent sexual sessions yet they are yet to establish their HIV status.
There is also the question of a cacophony of messages on HIV lately, which seem to leave audiences confused. Billboards with contradicting messages have sprung up all over the country. It is good the Uganda Aids Commission has realised this and has directed that it must clear all these messages before they are posted.
But even as it does this, stakeholders must have an honest discussion about the structure of and reach of HIV message(s). Today, comprehensive knowledge about HIV among women aged 15-49 stands at 33.8 per cent while for men in the same bracket is 41.1 per cent.
This basically means that about half the population still lacks comprehensive information on HIV. It means misinformation and myths could still be a big hindrance to the fight against this scourge.
Our own view is that we must audit how we are passing out this information, including the channels used. Is there a false belief that Ugandans know everything about HIV when they actually do not?
We also recommend that stakeholders design segment-specific messages rather than go for a universal approach. Perhaps preaching abstinence to a high-risk population like fishermen will make less sense than ensuring free access to condoms. We must tailor the solutions to meet specific challenges.