There is plenty to celebrate in the fight against HIV/Aids in Uganda, but there are significant worries and much more work to be done too.
As the World Aids day was commemorated yesterday, Uganda Aids Commission shared some of the latest statistics that speak to this paradox. The total number of new HIV infections has reduced from about 140,000 in 2011 to 83,000 in 2015.
The number of people on anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs) has increased from 329,000 in 2011 to 874,000 in 2016. Fewer people are dying of Aids-related illnesses and those infected are living longer.
Perhaps the most significant success in the fight against HIV/Aids to date has been registered in mother-to-child transmission. The number of babies infected with HIV has dropped from 28,000 in 2011 to 3,500 by the end of 2015, representing 86 per cent reduction!
Notwithstanding these successes, significant challenges stand in the way to an HIV-free Uganda. About 1.4 million Ugandans are living with HIV, and there are 83,265 new infections every year. This sobering reality puts the much-acclaimed achievements in their proper context.
Turning the situation around is complicated by the fact that only 55 per cent of Ugandans have ever tested for HIV. More than 40 per cent of persons eligible for antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) are not accessing the life-saving drugs.
Perhaps the most worrying indicator is the rising infections amongst young people, especially adolescents and young women aged 15 to 24.
Education and outreach programs should be aggressively undertaken, particularly in schools, targeting this category. In the 1990s, older people were jolted into fearing HIV/Aids through a combination of consistently getting bombarded with information about it and seeing friends and relatives succumb to the pandemic in the most painful ways.
Today, the message is no longer persistent and it’s not as blunt as it used to be. Besides, with antiretroviral treatment and improvements in the management of the pandemic, not many young people have seen the real face of HIV/Aids, and hence the tendency to let their guard down.
One of the targets of the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Goals is ending HIV/Aids by 2030. This can be achieved if, in keeping with this year’s theme, we join hands to scale up HIV prevention. It begins with everyone testing for the virus.