500 girls are infected with HIV every week, is anyone in Uganda paying attention?

Friday February 10 2017

Humphrey Nabimanya

Humphrey Nabimanya 

By Humphrey Nabimanya

Chances are very high that by this time next year if you are still alive, 26,000 girls will be living with HIV if we are to go by a report released by the Uganda Aids Commission a few days back.
If this trend continues, by 2029, chances are high that your daughter or grand daughter may be among those living with HIV. On the other hand, your son, grandson or even your husband might be on the flip side of this horrific statistic.
Let’s understand the significance of these figures. The number of Members of Parliament in Uganda is close to 400. If 500 girls are getting HIV, every week, that’s a full Parliament with an excess of 100 people getting HIV every week. Just add that number for a year and see how many girls are getting HIV. Last I heard, we were complaining that the number of MPs is too big. Keep in mind that number is only for girls, boys and men are not in that heart-breaking equation.
This raises three fundamental questions Does this mean that Uganda which was once a role model country in the fight against HIV, has lost the fight against this scourge? Could it be “de-registering it’s past glory”? Don’t we need to rethink the strategies we are using in communicating HIV/Aids awareness messages and campaigns to young people?

I think it’s both. The efforts put up by the various stakeholders (civil society organisations, parents, schools, religion, cultural institutions, peers) need to be reinforced with the support of clear guidelines issued by the government.
For example, in October last year when Reach A Hand Uganda held its 3rd Inter-generational Dialogue which aimed at understanding who is responsible for teaching sexuality education to young people, many young people expressed concern that their parents shy away from having the sex talk with them because it is either taboo in a given community or do not have the right information to help them overcome SRHR challenges ultimately leaving the responsibility to teachers during school time.
Teachers on the other hand, are tasked with prioritising examinable academic content over other life skills development aspects of the educational curriculum. For instance, most time is spent on teaching about Canadian Prairies, St Lawrence Seaway, Swiss Alps name it.

Even when it comes to sciences and life skills, teachers, matrons and wardens end up teaching abstinence as the only strategy to combat HIV/Aids which is not wrong per say, but no emphasis is being put on the whole ABC strategy approach (Abstinence, being faithful and Condom use). One thing to note here is that young people are curious and will soon start questioning why they are only being taught abstinence.
The vicious cycle of consequences resulting from the above is not rocket science. This is what translates into the high levels of teenage pregnancies, under-age marriages, high school-dropouts, unsafe abortion and HIV/Aids contractions.
In Uganda, young people are vulnerable to diverse reproductive health challenges by due to their level of activity, willingness to take risks, and limited information. These include reproductive health problems such as STIs/HIV/Aids, early or unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and psychosocial problems such as substance abuse, delinquency, truancy, sexual abuse, etc.

If we are looking at the 2017/18 Budget, we need to allocate more resources in the budget higher than the current allocation which is at 8.9 per cent. This way, we will reduce the rates significantly and ultimately achieve the 90-90-90 agenda, we need to increase access health services especially reproductive health services and commodities for example condoms. This will be fundamental in counter attacking the challenges affecting youth like HIV.
Mr Nabimanya is the team leader & founder, Reach A Hand, Uganda.