Mbabazi, Activists In ARVs Row


rx geneva; font-size: small; line-height: 200%;”>In the Letter of the Week to the Editor in the Saturday Vision of October 26, ailment 2013, NAFOPHANU blasted the government official for making “absurd” comments on ARVs and HIV prevalence in Uganda.

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NAFOPHANU cited Mbabazi’s speech during the Pearl of Africa Lifetime Achievement (PALITA) Awards 2013, in which he said “increased access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs was one of the causes for disheartening complacency that has seen a spike in new HIV infections countrywide.”

He said unless Ugandans rediscovered the vigilance that saw the country reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence from 30 to 6 percent years ago, achieving one of the key pillars of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would be out of reach.

However, NAFOPHANU claimed Mbabazi appeared to be “nostalgic for the days when Ugandans faced certain death” after being diagnosed with HIV since there was no easy access to life-saving HIV treatment.

NAFOPHANU further noted that Mbabazi’s remarks show how out of touch some politicians are in the fight against HIV in the country.

In a rebuttal seen by Chimpreports on Monday evening, Mbabazi says he was a member of the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) when it was formed in 1992 to oversee, plan and coordinate AIDS prevention and control activities throughout Uganda.

The commission’s vision was a population free of HIV/AIDS and its effects.

“As Prime Minister, Mbabazi is now responsible for coordinating and implementing Government policies, including the AIDS Policy, across government ministries, departments and other public institutions,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office, signed by his Press Secretary, Kasanga Kyetume, reads in part.

“He cannot be nostalgic for the days when HIV/AIDS clients died in droves, as the NAFOPHANU Advocacy Manager, Happy Margaret wants to be believed, because his effective performance is anchored in the implementation success of these policies,” it further read.

It was admitted that ARVs are improving the lives of many people, enabling them to live much longer, normal and productive lives.

“However, there is no cure yet and drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge. While the increasing infections are popularly blamed on personal indiscipline, complacency – including the belief that condoms and ARVs are available – is the biggest contributor,” said Kyetume.

“We cannot, therefore, burry our heads in the sand and say all is well. AIDS is real and still claiming more of our beloved ones. Unfortunately, many young people today seem to have forgotten that it exists,” he added.

Kyetume cited the UNAIDS Global Report, 2012, saying greater access to antiretroviral drug treatment (ART) reduces people’s fear and urgency to get tested for HIV, increasing the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviour.

At least 52 young people are infected every hour in sub-Saharan Africa, of which 60 percent are young women.

Studies in rural Tanzania and Mozambique after the introduction of free ARVs indicate that a significant proportion of the population shares the view that ARVs can be used to prevent HIV infection.

Sexual relations

The studies also show that as the ARV users regain health, they increasingly engage in sexual relations.

The Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey Report released last year showed that HIV/AIDS prevalence rose from 6.4 to 7.3 percent over the previous six years. Improved access to ARVs significantly reduced deaths associated with HIV/AIDS, but the infection prevalence rate among people aged between 15 and 24 years increased from 2.9 to 3.7 percent.

In the survey, condom use was found to have declined significantly; reported use during sex with a non-cohabiting partner fell from 47 percent to 29 percent among men and 53 percent to 38 percent among women.

According to Kyetume, UAC has said before that people no longer view HIV/AIDS as a killer disease; they see those on ARVs leading a normal life, and misunderstand the need for using protection.

“UAC actually advises that the message that goes with the drugs must be: yes you are taking drugs but this will not save you; it will improve your quality of life as you wait for your death,” he noted.

Kyetume said NGOs and CSOs, NAFOPHANU inclusive, have varied interests in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“Some peddle statements claiming that clients who take effective ARVs have their viral load so significantly suppressed that they do not pass on the virus even through unprotected sex,” observed Kyetume, adding, “The government target is to put 80 percent of eligible people with HIV on treatment by 2015.”

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