UGANDA:‘WE CAN’T AFFORD TO FOLD OUR SLEEVES IN HIV FIGHT’

KAMPALA, Nov. 30 — On Monday, December 1, the world will mark the World Aids Day. Here in Uganda, the main event of the commemoration will take place in Fort Portal.

Ahead of this significant day, the Director General of Uganda AIDS Commission Dr. Christine Ondoa has said Uganda cannot afford to fold its sleeves in the fight against the HIV virus, else even the “slight” registered gains will be taken away.

Uganda registered world acclaim in the 1990’s when she reduced her HIV prevalence from over 18% to 6.4%. However, the country was back in for some stick after the incidences started to soar again.

The 2011 Uganda Aids Demographic Survey indicated that the national prevalence has risen again to 7.3% and that about 1.6 million people were living with the virus.

And this was not good for the country that had made its mark on the World stage and became a point of reference in the fight against HIV.

But, last year, the country put more 173, 000 people who were living with the virus on treatment compared to the about 140000 who contracted the virus that year, meaning the country had hit the tipping point.

When you put more people on treatment, and they are consistent on it, you reduce their infectiousness to about 90%. Dr. Ondoa said: “we have registered gains. We have less and less babies born with the virus. But, we cannot fold our sleeves, else we shall slide back.”

According to latest figures from the commission, the number of babies born with the virus has been halved to nearly 8000 from over 30.000 in 2011.

“Our aim is to have Zero new infections. Zero new children born with the virus. Zero Aids Related deaths and zero discrimination by 2025.

The goal is getting to zero. And we need the cooperation of everybody. Dr. Barbara Nanteza, the national Safe Male Circumcision Coordinator at the health ministry said they have circumcised over 2.1 million sexually active males (15-49 years) out of the 4.2million they are targeting by 2015.

Last year alone, they circumcised over one million men.

“The challenge is that we started slow. But, we are picking. We need to circumcise at least 13 men to avert one infection. And this [2.1m] number is good.”

Ondoa said that President Yoweri Museveni is expected to be the guest of honor at the Fort Portal celebrations.

“We have launched the Protect my Ball Champaign. We are partnering with religious leaders to help us relay the message. We want everyone to understand that the choice not to contract the virus lies in their hands. It’s my responsibility not to get the virus,” Ondoa said.

“Much as we have registered success, if we are to break it [the success] into categories, it is the area of elimination of mother-to-child where we have tangible results. HIV is high among the marrieds, its high among prostitutes, truck drivers and even in our adolescent girls.”

A figure the Director General quoted earlier this year shows that over 570 girls are infected with the virus every week.

Musa Bungudu, the UN Joint Program on HIV/Aids country representative, called on Government to focus on the most at risk groups in the fight against HIV.

“We know where this HIV is coming from. In these fishing villages, it is not only the fisher men who stay there. There are other farmers. Families. People go there and everyone suddenly becomes at risk.

“Government needs to extend these HIV interventions to these people. We need to focus on prostitutes. And the girl child,” he said.

SOURCE: New Vision

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