UNAIDS’ Winnie Byanyima hails Kabaka birthday run for increased HIV testing

Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi smiles while talking to one of the kingdom minister Joseph Kawuki during his birthday run on July 3, 2022. PHOTOS/ GEORGE KATONGOLE 

What you need to know:

  • Apart from testing, and treatment, there is an urgent need to end stigma.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said Sunday that the Kabaka Birthday Run has critically contributed to significant HIV awareness and increased testing, even in the face of severe challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Ms Winnie Byanyima said in her remarks at this year’s Kabaka Birthday Run that there has been increased testing and reduced new infections of HIV since the health-leaning event embarked on HIV and Aids awareness three years ago.

UNAIDS works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Right approach

Kabaka Ronald Mutebi was appointed the Africa Goodwill Ambassador by UNAIDS in 2017 to engage his subjects to contain HIV. The Kabaka launched an HIV advocacy campaign called "Men are Stars - Abaami Munyeenye - aimed at mobilising men and boys between 15-49 years to access HIV services in Uganda’s 25 districts worst affected by the HIV pandemic.

The UNAIDS’ Fast-Track approach since 2017 focuses on ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The report- Fast-Track: ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 outlines that by taking this approach, nearly 28 million new HIV infections and 21 million AIDs-related deaths would be averted by 2030.

The new set of targets that would need to be reached by 2020 include achieving 90-90-90.  It also emphasises the need to focus on the countries, cities and communities most affected by HIV and recommends that resources be concentrated on the areas with the greatest impact.

The initiative to tackle HIV &AIDS in Uganda is through a five-point plan to; Engage men in HIV prevention and close the tap on new infections, particularly among adolescent girls and young women; accelerate implementation of Test and Treat and attainment of 90-90-90 targets particularly among men and young people; consolidate progress on eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV; ensure financial sustainability for the HIV response; and ensuring institutional effectiveness for a well-coordinated multi-sectoral response.

In her remarks, Ms Byanyima acknowledged the role played by the annual Kabaka Birthday Run which for the past three years has been emphasising men to take the lead in HIV testing.

Referring to the current statistics that show 90 per cent of men who have tested positive for HIV in Several people living in central Uganda are now on treatment up from about 64 per cent five years ago. She stressed that the Kabaka Run has made considerable progress in responding to the HIV epidemic.

"Men and boys are less likely to get tested for HIV to be referred to treatment services and remain in care - meaning men are more likely to die of Aids-related illnesses. The Kabaka Birthday Run has contributed to a steep decline in new HIV infections over the last five years - with Buganda region making the fastest progress in reducing new infections," Byanyima said. 

Right strategies

Apart from testing, and treatment, there is an urgent need to end stigma.

The Katikkiro of Buganda, Mr Charles Peter Mayiga encouraged the runners to prevent new infections, get tested, seek treatment or abstain. Sexual intercourse remains the main mode of HIV transmission, with 95 per cent of the cases acquiring the infection this way.

Currently, HIV prevalence is highest in the Central region at 10.4 per cent due to its urbanisation and location of the capital city Kampala — home to more than 1.5 million people according to 2014 government statistics.

UNAIDs executive director, Winnie Byanyima and Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga share a light moment at the Kabaka Birthday Run on July 3, 2022

Going for HIV testing is the only way to know one’s status, Mr Mayiga added, saying that regular testing and early diagnosis allow those living with the virus to be treated early and achieve better treatment outcomes.

"The Kabaka wants a healthy population that can develop and grow coffee. With early and effective treatment, people living with HIV can lead lives no different from others," the Katikkiro said in a brief speech.

The crowd, which included among others, the Germany ambassador to Uganda Matthias Schauer, patiently waited for nearly two hours to start after assembling as early as 5am. The first runners were flagged off at 7:56am.

The race attracted an estimated 80,000 runners according to Ali Balunywa, the Sales and Distribution Director Airtel Uganda, for the half marathon, the 10-kilometre and 5km races out of the palace to the city's suburbs and a finish at the palace grounds.


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