HIV/AIDS: Uganda Slides Back
United Nations HeadQuarters in New York City- view from the East River.

HIV/AIDS: Uganda Slides Back people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide also increase.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: November 27, 2006

Uganda is among the countries where the HIV/AIDS infection rate is rising, according to the recent UNAIDS and World Health Organization Report on HIV/AIDS worldwide.

The report by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization released on Monday November 20 indicates that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS over the past two years has increased and the worldwide total now stands at nearly 40 million.

The report, titled "AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006," estimates that 4.3 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide this year and that about 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses. The report compared adjusted figures from 2004 rather than from 2005 because of changes in methodology and data.

According to the report, 40% of new infections among people aged 15 and older occurred among young people ages 15 to 24. In addition, there were 2.8 million new HIV infections in Africa in 2006 while 2.1 million people in Africa died of AIDS-related illnesses.

The report says that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be hardest hit, and within the region, Southern Africa in particular. Southern Africa has the highest burden of the disease. 32% of HIV-positive people worldwide live in Southern Africa and 34% of deaths from AIDS-related illnesses occur there.

It says that in Eastern Africa, HIV prevalence in Kenya , Rwanda and Tanzania appears to have decreased while HIV prevalence in Uganda which has been looked at worldwide as a success story is beginning to increase.

"This year's report gives us real cause for concern," UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, adding, "The global epidemic is growing in all areas".

Paul De Lay, director of evaluation for UNAIDS, said in a news release after the launch of the report that the latest national behavioral data show increasing erratic condom use and rising numbers of men who have had sex with more than one sexual partner in the previous year.

De Lay added that the increase in HIV prevalence in Uganda is also being fuelled by complacency, as well as a decreased intensity of prevention programs, funding and political commitment. According to the report, the infection rates in Uganda which had been brought down to 5.6% in men and 6.9% in women had started going up again.

The Uganda State Minister for Primary Health Care, Dr. Emmanuel Otaala says that there has been complacency and despondency. Otaala says that the recent national survey discovered that the overall prevalence had risen from 6.2% to 6.4%.

The report comes at a time when some people are blaming the government over what they call excessive promotion of abstinence. Some people have been unhappy about the recent campaigns emphasizing abstinence and faithfulness, arguing that Uganda's success story, was as a result of the prevention through campaigns, education and wide spread condom use in addition to Abstinence and Be faithful(ABC).

But pro Abstinence and Be faithful campaigners say that insisting on Condoms as the primary strategy to reduce AIDS not only overlooks the lessons of Uganda and the failure rate of condoms, but also ignores how the disease is usually transmitted.

Earlier reports have indicated that when the AIDS virus is contracted widely throughout a society as it is in much of Africa, condoms appear to be the least effective means to control it. For example many women cannot ask their husbands to put on condoms if they suspect them, while condoms are largely unavailable or expensive for some.

According to the UNAIDS report, "There are no definite examples yet of generalized epidemics that have been turned back by prevention programs based primarily on condom promotion." The report does however say that condom use is effective especially if used together with other prevention methods of abstinence and faithfulness.

Indeed the 2006 UNAIDS/WHO report says that countries like Botswana, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe which registered successes have increased condom use, sexual debut delay and decreased number of sexual partners among young people.

Commenting on the report, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Executive Director, Richard Feachem said that the progress is still too slow and too limited in the global fight against HIV/AIDS while U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said that in a short quarter of a century, AIDS has 'drastically changed our world'.

Faced with the new threat, the government of Uganda is repackaging the HIV/AIDS campaign message to penetrate even the smallest units like families. "We must repackage the sensitization of the messages in a format that can be understood by the people," says Dr. Otaala, the state minister for Primary Health Care.

The increase in infections is raising the need for increased care and treatment of those infected with HIV/AIDS, and making the need for more research towards a cure for HIV/AIDS more profound.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: November 27, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.