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Reversal in Uganda HIV Gains 'Good' Lesson for Zimbabwe

  • VOA Staff

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Uganda had the third highest number of new HIV infections in Sub-Sahara Africa in 2014, behind South Africa and Nigeria, according to the country’s AIDS Commission, reversing its reputation for successfully tackling the epidemic in the 1990s. Although the percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS is still half of what it was in the 1980s, the increase in new infections is worrying to health workers.

Billboards across Kampala warn of the dangers of unprotected sex.

Health officials said one of the reasons for the spike in HIV-infections, is that Uganda has become a victim of its own success, especially after the introduction of Anti-Retroviral drugs.

Program director Henry Magala of the AIDS Health Foundation, said the availability of ARVs has led to complacency.

“People got satisfied that once you're on medication you'll be all right,” said Magala. “People began saying that HIV is like any other disease. So the fear to get it vanished."

Uganda had received international praise for dropping its virus prevalence rate from 15 percent at its peak in 199, to 7.3 percent today. The reality of the rise in HIV-infections has changed the lives of people like 30-year-old Joyce, forever.

"I wanted to go to school,” explained Joyce, about how she contracted HIV. “So this guy, he was dating me. So he decided to pay my school fees. So I think I became very reckless with my life and had live ((unprotected)) sex with him. I think that's where I got my HIV from. That's what I remember," she said.

AIDS activists, like Magala of the AIDS Health Foundation, say the rise in infections is indicative of the fact that people are not making use of the simplest way to protect themselves against HIV -- a condom.

"We see that 35 percent to 40 percent of people who should use condoms are not using them."

The Ugandan government is responding to the spike in new cases by creating an HIV-AIDS Trust Fund to finance a campaign against complacency. Such a levy has been created in Zimbabwe, to fund treatment and prevention campaigns in the country. Sarah Kayagi Netalisire, who sits on the Parliamentary Committee on HIV and AIDS in Uganda, said the money raised from the fund would help spread prevention messages.

"As parliament, by creating this HIV and Aids trust fund, we as Ugandans are going to contribute to this levy,” said Netalisire. “I believe it's going to help us to reach out to those people we have my not reached out to."

Magala said funding has been an issue in recent years, leading to a shortage in HIV testing kits and other protective devices especially when donor money runs dry.

"We have continued to rely on donors for supplies of condoms in the country, so once this supply is short cut, that means the population has no condoms for protection."

Joyce, who's been living with HIV for five-years how, said she hoped these measures will help stop the spread of the virus. She said however, that all is not lost for those with the virus, like herself.

"The best medicine for HIV is acceptance. The more you accept your status the more you live."

Rise in HIV-infection rates are being noted in many countries, including Zimbabwe which, according to the country's National Aids Council, is noting an increase in HIV infection particularly among the youth.