By Cecilia Okoth and Aisha Naiga
The Director General Uganda AIDS Commission, Christine Ondoa has launched a campaign dubbed “Zip up 256” aimed at young people in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The campaign, which is spearheaded by young HIV/AIDS activists, is intended to reach out to schools and universities using entertainment and testimonies by youth infected with the virus.
“The HIV prevalence rate among the youth is at 4 percent. If we concentrate on them, they will be able to reduce the prevalence rate in the future,” Ondoa said, adding that the prevalence broken down between boys and girls is at 1.1 percent.
She further explained that this prevalence however shoots up to 5 percent when girls move to university, saying that they are more vulnerable since they engage in multiple sexual relationships and cross generational sex, the main drivers of new infections.
The other drivers she said include, social structural and gender norms, social economic and violation of human rights especially for women and girls and cultural practices like the Imbalu festivities which involves uncontrolled activity coupled with alcohol consumption. “What will you expect?” she wondered.
She said much as circumcision has so many benefits, including reducing the risk of infection, it does not protect one from acquiring the virus. “Some young people say being circumcised is like having a permanent condom on.”
Ondoa was explaining the factors fueling the epidemic to a group of youth at the National Theatre on Tuesday during the launch.
“Young people would rather get Hepatitis D and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases like HIV/AIDS than getting pregnant,” She said, adding that this perception among the youth must change.
Kenneth Kimuli, a comedian also known as Pablo and a partner in the campaign said it is easier to reach out to young people on issues related to HIV/AIDS using comedy, humour and music.
“There is a big need to avail information about HIV/AIDS to teenagers and handy support through peer to peer interaction, testimonies and mentorships,” He said adding that most of the campaigns in the mainstream media only target the adults. “These young people could have contracted the virus at birth or through sexual intercourse.”
Kimuli said that according to findings in secondary schools that they have been to, HIV/AIDS is transmitted through activities that society finds difficult to discuss, or that are infused with stigma. “The teachers mostly focus on getting better grades than the social well being of the students.”
The schools visited include; Seeta High School, Kings College Budo, Luzira Secondary School, St Denis Ssebugwawo Secondary School, Seroma Christian High School, Light College SDA Katikamu, Kololo Senior Secondary School.
“The feedback we got from these students is that they are very sexually active with minimal knowledge on its repercussion.
Uganda with a population of 36 million people has an HIV prevalence rate of 7.3 percent, according to the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey (UAIS) report 2011. The percentage is higher among women than men. The prevalence rate is at 8.2percent among women compared to 6.1percent among men.
Uganda’s prevalence rate tops in the East African region. Burundi whose population is at 8.8million has an HIV prevalence rate of 1.4percent, Kenya at 41 million is at 5.6percent, Tanzania at 47.1million is at 5.3percent and Rwanda whose population is 11.million is at 3.0percent.
Ondoa said research in 2014 Melbourne HIV/AIDS Conference shows that Uganda is sixth out the top ten most burdened countries in the world.
The others include South Africa, Nigeria, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, United States of America and Zambia respectively.
New HIV/AIDS campaign launched