Hitting skins without rubbers, more booze and tossing ABCs

This month started with us marking World AIDS Day. This one day, 1 December, is meant to highlight the issues related to the pandemic, achievements made in the fight against it, and the challenges that remain. But we should never lose sight of the clear and present danger it poses to us every day.

Since a one Nakafeero, a resident of Kasensero in Rakai District, died of “Slim” (as HIV/AIDS was known then, making hers the first recorded case in Uganda), two million others have succumbed to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. The figure could probably be much higher if Uganda, hailed as a success story, had not implemented an effective anti-AIDS strategy summed as ABC—Abstain, Be faithful, or use a Condom.

Along the way, we seem to have lost direction and focus. Some have attributed it to the influx of donor money that kept pouring in as the strategy yielded tangible successes. May be, it is because 67.3% of the resources used for the national response to HIV/AIDS comes from external sources, 10.3% is contributed by government, and 21.4% by infected/affected households. Or it is just that people do not care anymore, or some kind of fatigue has set in.

A study done in three “hotspot” areas in Mbarara (which incidentally was host to the national activities for the 2013 AIDS Day) showed spikes in prevalence and inconsistent condom use coupled with risky sexual behaviour. The HIV prevalence rates in the three areas are: Kijungu (13%), Nyeihanga (15.8%), and Ruti (7.9%). This makes an average of 12.2%, almost five percentage points higher than the national rate, which stands at 7.3%. In Nyeihanga, among males, it is 9%, and 31% among females! Characteristics common to Kijungu, Nyeihanga and Ruti is there are centres of commerce positioned on highways with many travelers, bars, and lodges. There are also sex workers and condoms are available in the shops. To quote one of the researchers, “It was found that people don’t want to use condoms.”

Is it a coincidence that Uganda AIDS Commission is sounding the alarm bells? From 2011 to 2015, it estimates there will be a total of 780,000 new infections and 25,000 babies born with the virus. But as it points out, the number of new infections could be reduced by 40% or 312,000 if the National Prevention Strategy is implemented. Just like ABC got us to take the bull by the horns, this new strategy could get us to zero as the theme for this year says.