At least 1,400 people living with HIV/Aids in Mbale District have abandoned antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment due to lack of food, health officials have said.
The district health officer, Dr Jonathan Wangisi, on Monday said the people have been on treatment at various health centres.
"Reports indicate that they abandoned the drugs due to lack of food because those drugs are very strong and you cannot take them on an empty stomach. You need a meal," he said.
Dr Wangisi noted that the district health team will use the existing village structures to trace them and educate them to continue with their treatment.
He added that skipping or abandoning treatment affects the reduction of the viral load and protection of the immune system.
The officer in-charge of the ART clinic at Busiu Health Centre IV, Ms Lillian Nabafu, said of 600 people enrolled on drugs, half of them have abandoned treatment while others always skip medication.
"We have failed to trace them due to lack of transport. Some of them keep telling us that they cannot continue taking drugs because they don't have food," Ms Nabafu said.
Mr Innocent Khaukha, the data clerk at Bufumbo Health Centre IV, said about 400 people living with HIV/Aids no longer receive treatment at the facility.
Ms Scovia Akello, one of the persons living with HIV, said she lost her husband two years back for failure to take his medication.
"We didn't have enough food that would enable us to take drugs effectively. My health condition is also deteriorating drastically because I don't have food," she said.
Mr Robert Wandwasi, the district HIV focal person, said acceptance and disclosure is one of the challenges affecting the HIV treatment process.
"HIV stigma is affecting the picking of drugs at ART clinic. When someone goes to pick drugs and sees someone he or she knows there, that will be the end of him or her picking drugs at the clinic," he said.
Mr Wandwasi said lack of customer care and confidentiality at some ART clinics in the district is also making matters worse.
He explained that some people stop taking drugs when their health condition improves, something he said leads to drug resistance.
"When you take treatment and your health improves, it does not mean that the virus is no longer there," he said.
According to Mr Wandwasi, the rate of multiple sexual partners in the district stands at 53.6 per cent, which he said is the main cause of the high prevalence of HIV/ Aids in the district.
He said 10 per cent of youth in Mbale District have sex before the age of 14, which he said is largely responsible for the 7 per cent HIV/Aids prevalence among young people in the arera.
The HIV prevalence rate in the district, however, stands at 3.2 per cent and at the regional level, it stands at 5.2 per cent.
Dr Bonny Oryokot, the head of Medical Services at TASO Mbale branch, said many people refuse to take drugs due to stigma.
"Some of our adolescent girls do not want to disclose their HIV status because they fear to lose their partners," Dr Oryokot said.