New HIV infections among children, youth alarm experts

What you need to know:

  • The researchers said upto 19,000 new HIV infections and 7,000 Aids-related deaths are reported annually among children and youth. They blamed this on the limited impact of the government programmes in the communities.

Researchers from Uganda and the US have raised concern over the huge number of new HIV infections and Aids-related deaths among children and youth in the country.

The researchers said upto 19,000 new HIV infections and 7,000 Aids-related deaths are reported annually among children and youth. They blamed this on the limited impact of the government programmes in the communities.

The latest statistics from the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) indicate that 37 percent of the 38,000 new HIV infections registered in the country annually are among youth with 79 percent of the infections happening among young women.

Mother-to-child transmission contributes to 5,300 of the new infections registered in the country annually, according to the UAC.

The researchers have advised  the government to include economic empowerment interventions in its HIV/Aids control programmes to cut the infection rates, reduce deaths and improve economic productivity among infected youth.

The researchers said they made this recommendation based on a cohort study carried out in Uganda between 2012 and 2018, led by Prof Fred Ssewamala, a researcher from Washington University and the director of the International Center for Child Health and Development (ICHAD).

The researchers followed 702 youth with HIV in greater Masaka Sub-region, one of the areas with very high HIV prevalence, for five years. The youth were divided into a bolstered standard of care group and an intervention group. The youths in the intervention group received financial empowerment which combined matched savings account, financial education, health education, and income-generating activities.    

Through this, they determined that economic intervention in routine approaches such as providing free antiretroviral drugs, significantly improved adherence to medication, reduced the urge to spread the infection and improved their productivity.

“The incidence of undetectable viral load was significantly higher among those receiving the [economic] intervention. The proportion of virally suppressed youth among those receiving the intervention increased 10 times compared to non-intervention recipients. Youth, who reported greater asset ownership, including financial savings, were more likely to report better treatment adherence,” they said.

A person with good viral load suppression is less likely to transmit the virus during intercourse and they are able to live a healthy and productive life like someone who is not infected, according to the UAC.

Dr Noeline Nakasujja, the chairperson of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at Makerere University, said there is a need to change approaches.

“Many times it is not possible to determine that your programme will be successful. For example, the government provided ARVs thinking that people would take the drugs, only to discover that people don’t take them,” she said in an interview yesterday.

“The government has spent money on buying these medications and people are not taking them. So it is important to go back and find out why these children who were started on medication are not adhering. We can’t do that by only listening to one child. That can only be best done by community investigations. You need a big number of people for you to reach a meaningful conclusion,” she added. 

Prof Ssewamala said in an interview yesterday that there is a need to tackle poverty in families to improve public health.

“We work with communities. We strengthen them so they can take care of the children. Children are better raised in their communities than being pulled out of communities and put in institutions [like orphanages]. When you strengthen families, they are able to take care of these children,” he said in an interview.

Govt reacts

While commenting of the findings of the researchers, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health Minister, said they are open to adopting the recommendation that improves the outcome of public health interventions.

“Psychosocial, structural and cultural factors of health significantly impact outcomes. We know the power of investing in financial and social support for our children and families,”  she said.

She, however, said there is still need for investigations by Ugandan researchers to understand complex challenges in addressing public health issues in the country.


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