Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Museveni's World Aids Day Message Missed the Science in HIV?

By Esther Nakkazi

President Yoweri Museveni was a guest of honour in Fort portal yesterday and his speech for the World Aids Day missed the science in HIV.

In his message Museveni, encouraged adolescents and young children to abstain from sexual intercourse until they become of age to make informed decisions. He urged health educators to repackage HIV prevention information for young people. That was fine.

He also saluted the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) headed by former Health Minister Dr. Christine Ondoa for their work; infection rates are down from 162,000 in 2011 to 137,000 in 2013; people living with HIV on life-long treatment are 680,000 people as of June 2014, out of a total of 1,400,000 Ugandans living with HIV; mother to child transmission new guidelines are now rolled out country wide.

And pointed out that inspite of these achievements, 350 new HIV infection still occur in Uganda daily!

He spoke about the challenges Uganda is facing to fight HIV pointing out that most infections are happening among most at risk populations including: Sex workers, fisher folk, Uniformed Personnel and Truckers.

But Activists say while the messages were appropriate and encouraging he missed the point. And  the science in HIV. According to Alice Kayongo-Mutebi the Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager- East/West Africa Bureau, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).

His messages strongly undermined the importance of circumcision as an HIV prevention method.

"He made comparisons between Bakonjo and Bagisu who have traditionally circumcised their men but still do not have the lowest prevalence rates in the country," said Kayongo. He mentioned that 'those who circumcise could die'. Yes they could but he needed to back it up with stats.

A study done in African countries including his own country, Uganda, showed that men who are circumcised reduce their risk of becoming infected heterosexually by approximately 60 percent.

Kayongo said Museveni also undermined the use of condoms as a prevention tool when he said 'Condoms should stop! If you do not trust someone, then do not have sexual intercourse with them'.

Many studies have indicated that consistent use of condoms results in 80 per cent reduction in HIV incidence. Consistent use is defined as using a condom for all acts of penetrative vaginal intercourse.

Kayongo also pointed out that Museveni while talking about most-at-risk population did not mention men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender Ugandans who at the risk of HIV infections.

Although no study has been done yet to establish the HIV incidence among MSM and commercial sex workers in Uganda, they are known to be among the drivers of the HIV epidemic. The one that was being done got suspended at MUWRP.

Scientists have indicated that Uganda’s HIV incidence-new infections per year, can be reduced by 77 percent if the country targeted prevention in most at risk populations which includes MSM.

Apparently, Men who have sex with Men are a bigger danger because most of them also have sex with women and they could be married, especially in a hostile environment like Uganda.

Uganda’s HIV incidence can be averted if they focused more on most at risk populations for prevention said a researcher from the school of Public Health Makerere University, Joseph Matovu. “If they did at least 2 million infections could be stopped by 2025,” said Matovu.

"Telling from the issues mentioned above, some of the President’s remarks were really unfortunate!
We need to continue to highlight the importance of safe male circumcision and condom use as prevention tools," said Kayongo. 

"The President has probably not been adequately informed about the scientific evidence surrounding these two interventions," said Kayongo.

Flavia Kyomukama, an HIV activist said Museveni had earlier said that any young person who gets infected with HIV is committing 'treason'.

"I think it is unfortunate for a Head of state not to know his epidemic and continue to leave some sections of the society behind. No wonder, Uganda's annual new HIV transmission rate is still as high as 137,000," commented Kyomukama.

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