President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday commissioned a fast track initiative which is hoped to kick HIV/AIDS out of Uganda in a little over a decade to come.
The Presidential First-Track Initiative to End the HIV/AIDS Pandemic as public health threat in Uganda by 2030 is being headed by the President himself.
The launch was attended by among others the First Lady of Zambia Esther Lungu and UNAIDS Executive Director Michael Sedibe.
The initiative follows concerns of significant gains lost by Uganda in the fight against the incurable disease in the last one decade.
He recalled also that at one point some of his soldiers exported the disease to Cuba, buy and had to be deported.
Museveni says he first encountered AIDS in 1983 when one of his men fell sick and the doctors tried everything possible to treat him but could not point out what the problem was, until he died.
He later found out that the victim had been in Rakai district, which at that time was the epicenter of the epidemic.
“We didn’t know what killed him,” the president said. “I talked to our doctors including Dr. Kizza Besigye about this boy but nobody had an explanation.”
Word on radios at the time was that the new and deadly disease affected only homosexuals and had no medicine. Museveni says he was initially not concerned, knowing that he didn’t have homos amongst his rebels.
This was however debunked later in 1985 by a female doctor in Zambia who confirmed that that HIV was affecting both homosexuals and straight people, who she had seen in her clinic.
But being preoccupied with the war, Museveni says he forgot about the epidemic and it was not until months after capturing power in September 1986, that his realized his mistake, having unknowingly sent a bunch of HIV positive soldiers for training in the Caribbean.
“In September 1986 we were attending a conference in Harare. At the conference, the Cuban leader, the late Fidel Castro took me aside and told me I had a big problem in my country,” narrated the President.
“Apparently we had sent 60 soldiers from here to Cuba for training. We didn’t screen them before they left but the Cubans did check them and found that 18 of them were HIV positive.
“Castro told me that those 18 were to be sent back and the others would continue with their course.”
On returning home, Museveni immediately summoned a meeting of medical experts and stakeholders at the Public House (Bulange) which was still under the army.
He says he interrogated the experts led by one Dr Sam Okware on how AIDS was spreading and was told that it spread through blood and body fluids.
“I was then concerned that mosquitoes were likely vectors of HIV, but Dr Okware reassured me that this wasn’t possible, because if so, people living in the same households would all be affected, yet in most cases it was the adults who were positive and not the children.”
“He couldn’t explain though, how a needle could transmit HIV while the mosquito couldn’t.”
After learning that HIV spread only through sex and blood, Museveni says he “concluded that that this was a simple disease.”
“Even now I tell you that it is a simple disease. It is not a big issue if all of us, the health workers, parents, teachers and all stakeholders are serious. It is not like flu or Ebola,” said Museveni.
The President prescribed mass sensitization as a powerful tool to put an end to the HIV scourge.
He thus challenged the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC), the Ministry of Health officials and local leaders to fully exploit the advantage that Ugandans are good at listening and grasping any vital information adding that by not reaching out to them, is a disservice.