Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Mama Tlou and Mama Museveni talked zero HIV

By Esther Nakkazi

When mama Tlou visited Uganda recently, she called on mama Museveni. The two chatted away about children, goats, rain, harvest, the normal chitchat that African women usually engage in. 

But the conversation then got serious, as mama Tlou or officially Prof. Sheila Tlou, is the UNAIDS director of the Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa and Mrs. Janet Kataaha Museveni, is Uganda’s first lady, minister for Karamoja Affairs and Ruhaama county MP.

Mama Tlou appealed to mama Museveni to champion prevention of pediatric HIV infections particularly the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT). One of the key issues to halting the epidemic is leadership but lately it has waned both nationally and internationally.

In Africa leadership made a difference earlier on in Uganda and in Botswana. In South Africa new leadership has given rise to a much expanded and effective AIDS treatment and care program.
So Tlou's mission was to revitalize the leadership in the context of getting to: Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths with special focus to elimination of Mother To Child Transmission.

“We should strive to keep the mothers alive so that we do not create more orphans. We should also enroll them on antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible so that they can safely continue breastfeeding and ensure that the babies are healthy,” Tlou pleaded.

Studies show that new HIV infections among children have already been virtually stopped in high-income countries, with the number of new infections among children falling dramatically due to the effective use and availability of antiretroviral drugs.

Comparable results can be achieved in low- and middle-income countries. Transmission of HIV infection from mother to child can be reduced to less than 5 percent if pregnant women living with HIV have access to health programs involving antiretroviral drugs.

“Mama,” Tlou urged, “Uganda was one of the countries that inspired US even before the advent of ARVs. The leadership is still right here. We need you to champion PMTCT like you have done with the youths.”

Mama Museveni is recognized for her programmes among the youths, which have greatly reduced HIV prevalence and new infections in this group. She founded Uganda Women’s Initiative to Save Orphans, and is the patron for the National Youths Forum plus several youth’s initiatives in HIV and sexual reproductive health. Her campaigns have focused much on Abstinence and Being Faithful.

In Uganda, 150,000 children below 15 years in Uganda are HIV positive, with 98,000 needing treatment but only 24,000 are accessing it. Of the ones on treatment, 38% do not return after being diagnosed or after the first treatment.

Mama Museveni decried complacency calling on government leaders to ‘re-energise their efforts in the prevention response.’ “I think the campaign relaxed and people forgot that HIV is still with us. We need to continue drumming HIV prevention messages, especially regarding PMTCT, so that people wake up,” she said assuring that she was also talking to papa Museveni about it.

“I have been speaking to the president to talk about HIV. He used to and it worked.” “My traditional area was the youths. But now I’m scattered. It has really distracted me from my calling but I know we really have a challenge. I’m willing to come back on board,” she pledged.

Mama Tlou’s visit to Uganda was to engage in high-level advocacy with Government of Uganda leadership, to revitalize the national HIV and AIDS response.


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