The latest statistics on new HIV infections hit me hard. There are 570 new infections every week in Uganda, mostly among the ages 15-25. According to health experts, this is a state reminiscent of the 1990s. We have literally gone back to 1988. Uganda seems to be losing the fight against HIV/AIDS. Uganda now falls behind South Africa as the country with the 2nd most new infections each. There are close to 30 million people infected with the virus in Africa, majority of who are in sub-Saharan Africa. The BBC reported on Wednesday 30th November that there are almost 7million infected people in South Africa alone.
2 years ago, I wrote that the reality of HIV no longer gnaws at peoples minds like it used to. The emaciated bodies of those infected plus the visible rashes and general body weakness is a thing hidden from the public eye. HIV/AIDS was an unimaginable terror in the late 80s and 90s. One disturbing revelation is that girls today have more fear for get pregnant than contracting HIV. The stigma has to a greater extent reduced and HIV+ people do not look that bad today because of ARV treatment that wasnt previously available. Today however, ARV treatment has tended to hide the ugly face of the virus and the fear has waned. Even the campaigns against the sexual network or the ABC strategy have reduced. Alone and frightened, the AIDS anthem sang by Philly Bongole Lutaaya is played only on World AIDS day. The straight talk newsletters that used to provide critical information about HIV/AIDS to the youth seem to have vanished. I remember listening to some radio dramas and watching films that were all preaching the gospel of ABC. These are initiatives that I personally, see less of today. They are the same initiatives that won Uganda and President Yoweri Museveni so much international acclaim for the response to the AIDS scourge.
‘Hands up for HIV prevention’ was the global theme of the world AIDS day 2016 commemoration underlining the fact that prevention of new infections remains a critical part of ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. If you are HIV+ get onto treatment, if you are negative, do not acquire it.
The way forward.
Approximately 54% of people living with HIV are unaware of their status, many of whom are in need of treatment. HIV criminalization laws have not helped the situation with the HIV prevention and control act in the pipeline (although it is being challenged in the constitutional court).
However, not all is lost. In terms of policy, new approaches continue to be developed. The one I am impressed with the most is 90-90-90 treatment target by 2020. In this policy, countries including Uganda have committed to have 90% of the people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV status to access treatment and 90% of people on treatment to have suppressed viral loads. Its a great policy if you asked me considering that 54%of those living with HIV do not know their status. . Through the sustainable development goals, the world has committed to ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. 30th November, 2016 also saw the start of new trials for the AIDS vaccine in South Africa, the closest one developed by scientists so far. There are more HIV+ people on ARVS than before.
The work of my local parish, Mbuya when it comes to efforts to combat the spread of HIV fills me with so much pride. Through a community organisation called Reach Out uganda, the efforts of the parish to do something about AIDS have gone a long way in saving lives. Not only does it provide treatment but also support to people living with the virus or children orphaned by the disease. The Reach Out centre, founded in 2001 by Rev. Fr Joseph Archetti was even graced with a visit by Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state of the U.S.A in August 2012 in recognition of its work. On Saturday 3rd December I shall join hundreds of people to participate in a charity run organized by the same parish to raise funds to lend a hand to some of the children orphaned by AIDS that it cares for. I am also thinking of volunteering there for a few hours each week. It is my own way of saying I care and Im willing to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. I realized this three years ago when one of my best cousins succumbed to an HIV related disease. You do not have to wait to get infected or lose someone, join the fight now. There is nobody in Uganda who can claim not to have been affected by or seen the effects of the AIDS pandemic.
Go get tested, abstain, use condoms, be faithful and get off the sexual network. An HIV free generation is possible and it starts with each one of us.