What you need to know:
- Health officials say stigma has forced some people to shun ARVs.
Health officials in Mbale City have expressed concern over the increasing number of persons with HIV/Aids who have reportedly shunned medication after being enrolled on anti-retroviral treatment (ART).
Mr Robert Wandwasi, the Mbale HIV/Aids officer, said ART retention reports indicates that 80.2 percent attended in the last six months, 66.5 percent in 12 months and 65.5 percent in 24 months.
“There is poor retention of clients on ART. They are not adhering to drugs yet this is risky to their health and others because we believe they are sexually active,” he said.
Mr Wandwasi added that they are losing about 5 percent of those enrolled on ARVs on a monthly basis, something he said is failing their efforts to facilitate scale up of antiretroviral therapy to fight the disease.
“This exposes wide gaps in our work because we don’t know why they are shunning to keep up their refills,” he said.
Mbale has a HIV prevalence of 4.3 percent and a positivity rate at 3.8 percent with more than 10,000 HIV patients currently enrolled on ART.
However, the HIV/Aids infection rate in urban areas is high and it stands at 7.1 percent.
Mr Wandwasi said Ugandans have also became complacent and are engaging in risky lifestyles, which include having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
“There is also a big challenge in HIV testing where only 52 percent of the people have tested in the last one year and know their status, yet there is a high positivity rate in the remaining 48 percent of the Mbale residents,” he said.
Mr Wandwasi, however, said they have introduced a new mode of ensuring that all services such as family planning and HIV testing is conducted in one place to enable testing of everyone.
“But most importantly, our people need to also embrace the ABC approach of abstaining, being faithful and using condoms to reduce the spread,” he said.
Mr Paul Emuron, the Mbale City officer-in-charge of ART, said they experience a high number of people abandoning ARVs at the health facilities and pickup points.
“This habit is mostly by school-going children, the youth, sex workers and men,” he said
Mr Henry Busima, who works with Poverty Alleviation and Community Development Foundation (Pacodef), a non-government organisation, said most people don’t want to be seen picking their refills.
“This is a big risk to their immunity because their health automatically keeps deteriorating since their immune system is no longer strong enough to control the virus in the body,” he said.
Mr David Mwanga, a project officer of Women with a Mission, said overwhelming effects of drugs on the users discourages some of them, hence shunning the medication.
“Those with HIV face continuous side effects, which are severe to handle. Some of them have nothing to eat,” he said.
Mr Robert Okello, the project officer of Health Mbale Federation of Communities, said stigma and discrimination among such patients is still high in the communities.
“It’s worse among adolescent youths and expectant mothers. This has forced many to abandon treatment,” he said.
Ms Scholastic Napoko, a mother with HIV/Aids, said most people with the virus have no access to nutritious meals which are prerequisite when on ART.
“We are always instructed to have a balanced diet before taking medicine to reduce side effects but most of us have one meal a day,” she said.
Mr Julius Wachalya, who also has HIV/Aids, said there is a need for the media to continuously sensitise the masses on the virus and dangers of victimisation.
Mr Tonny Wamagala, the vice chairperson of Mbale City, said there should also be continuous community sensitisation on the dangers of shunning medication.
According to the 2019 statistics from Uganda Aids Commission, the number of people with HIV/Aids stands at 1.4 million, of whom 1.2 million are on treatment.
A total of 38,000 new HIV infections are registered every year. The figures also show that HIV prevalence is highest among men aged 45-49 years (14 percent) while that of women in the same age bracket stands at 12.8 percent.