The Observer (Kampala)

4 December 2012

Uganda: Mixed Messages Will Fail Aids Fight

editorial

A lot has been said about Uganda losing the initiative in the fight against HIV/Aids as new infections continue to rise.

The UNAids indicator survey figures for 2011 show that HIV prevalence among adults has risen from 6.4% five years before to 7.3%.

Ministry of Health figures indicate that new infections rose by 11.5% from 115,775 in 2007/8 to 128,980 in 2010/11. With questions being raised as to where Uganda went wrong, the blame game is on.

Presiding over the commemoration of World Aids day at Kasensero in Rakai last weekend, President Museveni blamed organisations promoting the use of condoms, and circumcision, saying only abstinence and being faithful actually work.

President Museveni, alongside his wife Janet, and religious leaders, subscribe to the conservative school of thought that suggests the only way to control the pandemic is through abstaining for the unmarried and being faithful for those in relationships.

Indeed that would be ideal, if it was achievable. However, experience has shown that it is easier said than done. Regardless of the dangers involved, some people will simply not abstain from sex.

Preaching abstinence to this category of people is a waste of time. A more pragmatic approach would suffice. And that is where protection, using condoms, comes in. While we agree with the President that circumcision advantages have been exaggerated, we recognise that even the little protection it offers must be taken advantage of; so, emphasis should be put on getting the right message across.

President Museveni played a big role in Uganda's success against HIV in the early years of his government. He, however, has to realise that what worked then might not work now. Rooting for one prevention strategy at the expense of others will not help the HIV/Aids fight.

It needs a multiplicity of interventions and the role of condom use for those unable to abstain can't be overemphasised. More so, his government must ensure decent health services across the country so that pregnant mothers anywhere can access adequately equipped health centres with motivated health workers. Here, those with HIV would be enlisted for PMTCT while all Aids patients are enabled to access antiretroviral therapy (ARVs).

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