There was a time when HIV and AIDS were the most dreaded acronyms in Uganda. However, the situation has changed so much so that as we mark World AIDS Day today, there is more hope than doom.
The reason for this positive twist is obvious. According to Uganda AIDS Commission, the total number of new HIV infections reduced from about 140,000 in 2011 to 83,000 in 2015.
The number of patients on anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs) increased from 329,000 in 2011 to 874,000 in 2016. And fewer people are dying of AIDS-related illness while those infected now live longer.
One of the most significant achievements registered in the fight against HIV/AIDS is reduction in the number of babies born with HIV; this dropped from 28,000 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2015, representing 86 per cent reduction.
However, notwithstanding these positives, an estimated 1.4 million Ugandans live with HIV. The number of new infections, although reducing, is still high and the cost of treatment exerts pressure on an already stretched healthcare system.
Besides, at least 40 per cent of people eligible for ARVs are not able to access them for different reasons. The reported rising infections among young people, especially adolescents and young women aged 15-24, is also a cause for concern.
Therefore, total victory remains far off. To get there, we must double our efforts. The good news is that it is relatively easy to do because there is an abundance of information regarding prevention and management of HIV/AIDS today, unlike 30 years ago.
The bad news is that we have not adequately leveraged this information for better and faster results. To achieve this, we ought to return to the basics.
Behavioural change is a must. And it is as easy as Abstain, Be faithful or use a Condom.
However, change in behaviour starts with knowing one’s status. It is telling that as high as 55 per cent Ugandans do not know their HIV status. If every adult Ugandan tested for HIV and thereafter acted on the doctors’ advice, this pandemic would soon be history.