By William Salmond
RECENT reports in the New Vision and other media reflect an unfortunate bickering among development partners in the HIV/ AIDS struggle.
The first was a complaint from The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) that the HIV positive patients they have been serving through outreaches are now being transferred to Ugandan Government facilities which are supported by USAID funded STAR (Strengthening T.B. AIDS Response at District level) programmes. These are managed by Management Sciences for Health, John Snow Inc. and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
The second was the complaint from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) that other NGOs were using their funds mainly for salaries and not providing services for those affected and infected by the epidemic. There was even a cartoon in the New Vision of May 13, 2012 showing USAID removing funds from the HIV/AIDS fight. This is far from the truth.
These reports are not only unfortunate, but also coming at a time when only strong concerted efforts can help turn the tide in the HIV/AIDS struggle. USAID is correct in moving now from an emergency phase to a long term developmental phase in the pandemic.
USAID has recently celebrated 50 years of development efforts worldwide and is able to take a long term perspective. It is only right and proper that the ministry of health will now take up the burden of care and treatment with technical assistance requested from qualified NGOs. Currently about 50% of Ugandans who require antiretroviral treatment are receiving it. These are funded mainly by the US Government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The other 50% will be funded by the Ugandan Government. Let me take you back down memory lane. In 1990 when the world was just waking up to the horror of the AIDS epidemic, USAID sent three of us from Uganda to San Francisco. We were Noerine Kaleeba the founder and head of TASO, Joel Kaswara, Head of Federation of Ugandan Employers, and I, the country director of World Learning (then called the Experiment in International Living, America’s first NGO).
We studied how voluntary testing and counselling was carried out and then traveled to Washington to discuss future funding possibilities for Uganda. Out of this trip came the first HIV testing and counselling centre in sub Saharan Africa - the AIDS Information Centre in Baumann House, Kampala. We had limited USAID funding to begin with.
It was used by World Learning to work with partners such as Church of Uganda, Northern Diocese, Catholic Church (AIDS Widows and Orphans Family Support Project) Islamic Medical Association of Uganda, UCOBAC, UWESO, (Ugandan Women’s Efforts to Save Orphans), whose Founder is Mrs. Janet Museveni the First Lady, TASO, LIDA, (Lira District Development Agency, FIDA (Federation of Women Lawyers, Joint Clinical Research Centre and, of course, AIDS Information Centre.
AIC had only one bicycle and the first blood samples of two young men were carried to the Nakasero Blood Bank in a cool box strapped to the back of this bicycle. When the results came back two weeks later both young men were told they were HIV negative. I hope they are still staying that way!
At that time we had no antiretrovirals and no prophylactic drugs to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. Together we attended funerals of friends, relatives, children, who had died of AIDS. And we sang Philly Bongoley Lutaya’s haunting song.
“Today it is me, tomorrow someone else It is me and you, we’ve got to stand up and fight. We share a life in this fight against AIDS Let’s stand together and fight AIDS.”
Today science has blessed us with excellent treatment and preventive medicine to eliminate pediatric AIDS.
So development partners, let’s lay aside any bickering and support the ministry of health’s efforts in prevention, care and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
The truth is we are already losing in primary prevention. We may smile at the early prevention messages with the radio drums, the mosquitoes in our ears telling us ‘AIDS Kills’ but today we have become complacent, sliding backwards. We have an appalling 15 new HIV infections every hour in Uganda. And this number is increasing rather than decreasing.
Only a concerted effort and behavior change with regular individual and couple HIV testing at all stages of life - school, university, marriage, first child, second child, etc. will turn the tide.
“Let’s stand together and fight AIDS”
The writer is the regional director, Country Programme Management Support, East, Central and West Africa. Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, Kampala