Uganda healthcare system derailing HIV fight - report

Tuesday November 15 2011

Uganda healthcare system derailing HIV fight - report

Ms Akol (L) talks to participants at the launch at Hotel Africana yesterday. Photo by Stephen Wandera 

By Stephen Wandera

Uganda’s healthcare system is inadequate and derailing the fight against HIV/Aids, a new report released yesterday has shown.

The report, released by the Uganda Network of Aids Service Organisation (UNASO), notes that most district health centres and hospitals do not have qualified health workers to handle people living with HIV/Aids due to lack of ARV drugs and test kits.

However, Ministry of Health is blaming the stagnant HIV prevalence rates in the country on uncoordinated response to the epidemic by pro-gay and lesbian civil society organisations. Uganda’s HIV prevalence rates have remained between 6.5 and 7 per cent for about two years.

According to Dr Zainab Akol, the coordinator of the national Aids Control Programme, the number of Ugandans dying from Aids-related infections has reduced significantly over the last two decades; but added that the fight is now being derailed by the civil society.

“They are spoiling our response to HIV/Aids. They are derailing us by dragging us to human rights issues of homosexuals. We in the health ministry do not want to know your sexual orientation. We treat everyone so long as that person is sick,” she said.

Ms Akol made the remarks while launching the report in Kampala on availability and accessibility of selected HIV/Aids services in Rakai, Nakasongola, Pader and Amuru districts.

Misleading report
However, Mr Godfrey Tuwesigye of HURINET Uganda, described Ms Akol’s comments as misleading.
“We have never called for cutting funding for HIV/Aids activities. We are just telling the ministry to streamline lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) in HIV/Aids activities. If in future we get a new type of virus among homosexuals, will they say they were not aware?” Mr Tuwesigye said.

But Ms Akol said Uganda recently missed a $270m(Shs770b) grant from the Global Fund to fight Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV/Aids for provision of ARVs due to lobbying by the civil society.

“However, the ministry has managed to secure another funding from Global Fund and we have enrolled an additional 100,000 new people on free ARVs. We intend to keep adding 100,000 patients every year,” she said.

“The biggest challenge is lack of trained health workers. We only have 20 per cent of the human resource we require. Out of these 15 per cent are not well trained,” Ms Akol said.

Her comments come barely a month after the New York-based Human Rights Watch on October 11, wrote to United States officials asking them to reconsider funding HIV/Aids programmes in Uganda, where it claims the rights of homosexuals are violated.

Human Rights Watch said Ugandan officials and media have intensified attacks on the rights of LGBT people.
The rights body cited an anti-condom, anti-gay pastor, whose church has received US funds for anti-Aids, abstinence and fidelity programmes, saying he listed names and pictures of gay rights activists on a web site.

Mr Tuwesigye instead blamed the ministry for ignoring the youth and focusing on discordant couples.