5 May 2011

Uganda: New HIV/Aids Messages Worsening HIV Situation

A new report by PANOS Eastern Africa has shown that new HIV/Aids messages meant to reduce the prevalence of the disease are instead facilitating its spread as they have created false impressions, especially with regard to multiple concurrent partnerships and male circumcision. PANOS is a network of institutions world over that carries out research and documentation of development information in marginalised communities.

The report, titled "Communication challenges in HIV Prevention: Multiple Concurrent Partnerships and Medical Male Circumcision", shows that majority of rural population believed that male circumcision gives a complete protection to HIV/Aids, while more than 88 per cent did not exactly know what the sexual network was.

The report also notes that most of these messages are urban based with little or no translation for the rural people while younger people are no longer scared of the HIV pandemic because it is no longer as scary as it used to be. These communications include the "Be a man" campaign, "Go together Know together", "Go Red" campaign and the "Fidelity" campaign. "Current Multiple Concurrent Partnership (MCP) policies, programmes and communication initiatives in Uganda are not addressing the social, cultural and economic issues that underline why people engage in MCP. Future attempts should incorporate an analysis of the social drivers of HIV," the report released last month reads in part.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Kampala, the Director PANOS Eastern Africa, Peter Okubal, said the report was prompted by the increasing number of infections every year. Last year alone, 120,000 new infections were recorded.One of the lead researchers, Daudi Ochieng, from the Uganda Health Marketing Group, said that the messages have lost authority and have become cliché. "People are tired of the same old messages, campaigns are vague and boring, there is nothing shocking about them and they lack coherence as everyone gives a different message," Mr Ochieng said.

Also, communication about HIV has become complacent in the Ministry of Health. "The role of MOH in educating people about HIV transmission seems to have ended with the introduction of ARVS. Once these drugs were introduced, even the international donors shifted from helping institutions like Aids Information Centre and are now helping those offering ARVS and more recently circumcision," a respondent said.

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