DAILYNEWS UG |Kampala, Uganda|
- In a country where 1.4 million people are living with HIV, women and young women in particular are disproportionately affected.
- There are many political and cultural barriers which have hindered effective HIV prevention programming in Uganda. As a result, new HIV infections are expected to rise in coming years.
- While there have been increased efforts to scale up treatment initiatives in Uganda there are still many people living with HIV who do not have access to the medicines they need.
- Punitive laws and stigmatising attitudes towards men who have sex with men, sex workers, and people who inject drugs has meant that these groups most vulnerable to infection are far less likely to engage with HIV services.
The Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission(UAC),Dr.Nelson Musoba has said currently the number of people living with HIV in Uganda is estimated to be at about 1.4 million.
Dr. Musona made the revelation while addressing journalists over the celebration of the first anniversary of the launch of the Presidential Fast Track Initiative on Ending AIDS as a public threat in Uganda by 2030.
“We have witnessed a reduced HIV prevalence among the general population from 7.3 percent in 2011 to 6 percent in 2016. About 1. million Ugandans are currently living with HIV,”he said.
“Only one million of these know their HIV status and are on treatment whereas the remaining 300,000 don’t know their status and most of these are men.”
He explained that due to the African setting, men are the head of the families and in this regard they are not open to taking HIV tests.
He added that on many occasions men fear testing due to stigmatisation.
According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, in line with President Museveni’s call for men to test and intensified efforts, 2179692 men above 15 years of age tested during the year 2017 with over 6000 (3.1%) being HIV positive and a biggest percentage of them linked to medical care.
Dr Musoba said that they are working towards ensuring 90% of all HIV positive people are identified through HIV testing, 90% of these are enrolled to Antiretroviral therapy and 90% attain viral load suppression by 2020 as the goal of the Presidential Fast Track Program.
The Uganda AIDS Commission Director General said that the number of new HIV infections in the country reduced from 140,000 in 2011 to 46,000 in 2017.
He said the number of children born with the HIV infection reduced from 28000 in 2011 to only 4600 in 2016, courtesy of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission initiative.
“Uganda is one of the first countries in Africa to register a record reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis. Those are significant gains that we must guard jealously .Women should not give birth to children who are HIV positive, ”he said.
He however expressed concern that the HIV prevalence rate among youths between 15 and 25 years is going up because most of them engage in cross generational sex with older men between 35 and 45 years.
According to Dr.Musoba, the priority areas for the Presidential Fast Track Initiative in the second year include strengthening the HIV response at subnational level and strengthening of strategic information.
The future of HIV in Uganda
Annual new infections are projected to grow rapidly to around 340,500 in 2025 – up from 52,000 in 2016.
For Uganda’s severe HIV epidemic to be reduced, a series of comprehensive health, political and social strategies will need to be implemented. There is also an urgent need to invest in impactful combination interventions to drastically reduce the number of new infections. This will require more government commitment and for tough decisions to be made at multiple levels – political, technical and operational. This includes domestic funding for the national response, which is currently underfunded and heavily donor dependent.
To reduce the impact of the epidemic among people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men in particular, both political and cultural conditions need to be redressed, starting with transforming punitive laws that criminalise people from these groups. One important step will be to make drug users a focus of national HIV strategies, which will result in better health outcomes, not only for drug users but the population in general.