SPECIAL PROJECTS
 
2nd December 2004.
Most women get HIV in marriage

By Carolyne Nakazibwe
WEEKLY OBSERVER

Another December 1, another World AIDS Day.
This is one anniversary that has nothing celebratory about it, 23 years down the road. The world unites to remember the lives lost to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the many more threatened, and to review progress made through the different responses.
The theme is Girls, Women and HIV/AIDS, with a strapline Have you heard me today?

In Uganda, anti retroviral drugs are still inaccessible for most, despite free drug initiatives by The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), ministry of Health, and several other charities and NGOs dealing with people living with HIV/AIDS.
In addition, new infections are still being registered, more so among young people between 15 and 25 years, casting a gloomy picture for the future of the country.

According to the latest UNAIDS statistics, about 1.5 million Ugandans live with the virus that causes AIDS, while an estimated 150,000 are alive by God’s grace, if anti retroviral drugs are not availed to them soon. Only about 10 percent of those in need access the life saving drugs.

AIDS in Uganda was first identified in 1981, but the earliest responses only came six years later after the NRM government came to power. Even with this intervention that came with openness, sensitisation and a resolve to find solutions, many Ugandans can testify about the painful deaths caused by the pandemic.

Hardly anyone can stand up to be counted when it comes to knowing absolutely no one who has suffered from HIV, or died of AIDS.

As a result of the pandemic, the country is facing a growing number of orphans. According to the latest UNAIDS report on AIDS, Uganda has about 940,000 orphans as a result of AIDS deaths. This has in turn increased the number of child-headed households.

When it comes to women, the picture becomes even grimmer.
At a recent workshop for the Media, Arts and Culture Self Coordinating Entity held at Hotel Africana, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator Dr. Ruben del Prado made some saddening remarks.
He said 60 percent of the HIV positive women in East Africa got the virus as soon as they got married, while in India, 62 percent of the women test negative before marriage, but 61 percent turn positive during marriage.

This points to infidelity in marriage, something some government officials have blamed on the exaggerated promotion of condom (C) use at the expense of the other components of abstinence (A) and being faithful (B) in the national ABC policy.

He pointed out that while there is too much talk about condoms, fewer people pay attention to the fact that on average a Ugandan man has access to 8.3 condoms in a year of 365 days!

“This is why it is important to explain abstinence; why it is important to explain being faithful,” del Prado said.
Yet when President Museveni raised similar sentiments at the July International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, there was outrage in Uganda and beyond.

Last week, Minister of State for Information Dr. Nsaba Buturo announced that the government is henceforth going to emphasise abstinence and faithfulness in marriage, to remove the image created that AIDS prevalence rates in Uganda went down due to widespread condom use.

Uganda is one of the few countries that have successfully rolled back the epidemic from a national prevalence rate of 18 percent (30% in some urban areas) in the early 1990s, to 6 percent today. This has attracted delegations from all over the world to learn what Uganda did differently.

The decline has been mostly attributed to behavioural change that has seen the age at which Ugandans start having sex increase, and faithfulness improve, while risky cultural practices have reduced.

Now another big battle appears to be fighting complacency that seems to be the main threat to the hard-gained results Uganda has scored in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

carol@ugandaobserver.com