Ugandan men who are living with HIV but are not open about their status are stealing antiretroviral medication from their wives who get the drugs from health facilities.
A report released on 19 December 2013 by The Aids Support Organization (TASO), which supports 19,000 people living with HIV, reveals how stigma, secrecy and fear of disclosure prevent men from going to health facilities themselves.
Rose Akiror, the TASO Clients Council's representative of people living with HIV, said: "Few men who are living with HIV get drugs [HIV medication] from health centres but unfortunately many force their women who are on treatment to share their drugs with them, which is putting those women's lives in danger."
Men need HIV education
"There is a need for concerted efforts to target men in the campaign against HIV because most of them are still complacent and not bothered about their status. Most of them continue to live reckless lives with an 'I don't care' attitude," Akiror continued.
The report noted there is still a high level of non adherence among people living with HIV with most not taking their medicine at the correct time, as well as failing to attend the health facility for reviews and to obtain further medication.
"Drunkenness is one of the causes, which can result in forgetfulness and recklessness such as forgetting to take medication and having unprotected sex," Akiror explained.
Improved access to HIV treatment
The report commends the efforts of TASO, the Aids Information Centre, SUSTAIN, Baylor Uganda, Uganda Cares and Soroti Regional Referral Hospital for helping people living with HIV to live better and productive lives.
Akiror said: "Because antiretrovirals can be accessed even in village health facilities, people living with HIV are now able to lead active lives by doing business and taking care of their homes. We also test women for cervical cancer, conduct free, safe male circumcision and put on plays, which educate the public about HIV."
Information is a vital tool in the response to HIV. Uganda Cares is running programmes on local radio stations targeting men with topics such as the dangers of sharing equipment for injecting drugs, the importance of adhering to treatment and the issue of stigma.
Dr Joseph Sangadi of Uganda Cares Soroti said: "We are running radio programmes every Friday for one hour focusing on men and HIV."
Women lose out
Sarah Amulen is one of many women whose health is suffering because her husband takes her antiretrovirals. "There is nothing I can do because even if I try to resist, he can beat me up," she said. "If I report him to the local leaders, he can chase me away from his home and I don't want to leave my children to suffer without my care.
"Because my husband takes them I don't have enough to last me in between appointments at the health facility, so when I go to get more I'm asked why I don't have any left."
Amulen has asked the government and non-governmental organisations to help educate men about the dangers of not testing for HIV and taking drugs which they have not been prescribed.