HIV infection rates drop - Experts

 A doctor takes a blood sample from a patient . In April 2021, Uganda Aids Commission said there had been reduction in HIV/Aids infections in the country. PHOTO/RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

  • Experts attribute the decline in infections to Covid-19 prevention measures that limited the movement of people.

Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) has said it registered 38,000 new HIV infections in 2020, which is 28 per cent lower than 53,000 infections recorded in 2019.

New HIV infections in the country had stagnated at 53,000 in 2018 and 2019, according to previous data from the UAC. 

Dr Nelson Musoba, the UAC director-general, on Friday said they  do not have a clear explanation for the decline but that Covid-19 prevention measures such as the lockdown, curfew and closure of bars could have played an important role.

“In 2019, new HIV infections were 53,000, but the data we have for January-December 2020, shows that the infections are at 38,000. This is a massive reduction [in infections,” Dr Musoba said.

“We are analysing the cause of the reduction, but one of the contributing factors we are thinking about is restrictions on movement which limited people from moving around in the night due to curfew,” he said. 

Dr Musoba  made the remarks during an event organised at the UAC headquarters in Kampala to sensitise people living with HIV about the importance of taking Covid-19 jabs.

“We are still looking at the data to disaggregate in terms of age groups, districts that are most affected. We are also assessing changes in the distribution of new infections in urban and rural areas,” he said.

Several cases of teenage pregnancies were also reported during prolonged closure of schools due to Covid-19 outbreak, an act many experts warn could trigger a drastic rise in HIV infections. 

Experts project that the increase in new infections could be  attributed to the many cases of people living with HIV failing to get antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs due to travel restrictions during the lockdown or failing to take their medication due to lack of food, which is a necessity. 

According to the Commission, infected persons who are adhering to medication are virally suppressed and may not transmit the virus. 

Last year, reproductive healthcare and services providers complained that they were finding it hard to reach people with condome which are essential in preventing sexually transmitted disease due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Dr Musoba said they are shocked at the reduction in HIV infections considering the many challenges experienced due to the pandemic.

“When we were interacting previously and in light of the challenges posed by the pandemic, we thought new HIV infections could rise but the data is showing us the reverse. We are still trying to understand what could have caused it,” he said. 

Risk factors and behaviours
Highlights on high risk factors and behaviours associated with HIV acquisition and transmission,  the commission states that  36.7 per cent of new infections among adults occur in “people who had sex with someone who was not their marital or cohabiting partner.”

The non-marital partners, they slept with include sex workers who harbour some of the highest prevalence of HIV in the country, according to government statistics. 

During Covid-19 lockdown and eventual loss of jobs due to effects of the pandemic on economy, many Ugandan couples were forced to stay together at home and this limited their chances to explore and engage in extra-marital sex.

Although there was a significant reduction, Dr Musoba says 38,000 infections are still very high and that it means more than 104 people get infected daily.

Dr Alfred Driwale, the head of immunisation programme at the Ministry of Health, said among 338 Covid-19 deaths in the country, patients who were already infected with HIV accounted for significant number followed by those with diabetes and hypertension. 

Dr Driwale said the vaccine is safe for persons living with HIV and that the benefits of taking the jab outweigh the reported side effects such as blood clots which are very rare compared to millions of doses so far administered globally.