By Moses Walubiri
A consortium of civil society organizations (CSOs) has lobbied parliament to enact Aids policies and interventions that do not exclude the aged. This has come as Uganda seeks to half the current HIV/AIDS prevalence rate by 2015, as per the National HIV/AIDS Strategic plan 2011-2015.
This, they hope, will be reflected in the HIV/AIDS bill 2010 whose amendments the committee on HIV/AIDS and other related matters is soon handling.
CSOs contend that majority of the current AIDS interventions are proving counterproductive since they lack a deliberate component of targeting “older persons as a special population segment at high risk of HIV infection.”
Under their umbrella body - the National HIV Prevention Advocacy Group for Older Persons in Uganda – civil society representatives told MPs on the HIV/AIDS committee that many Ugandans above 60 years are sexually active, yet many AIDS initiatives are tailored to serving people in the reproductive age bracket.
“As the country seeks to effectively tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic either through legislation or other interventions, the aged ought to be brought on board. Forgetting them can prove to be a time bomb,” Margaret Kabango of Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA) noted.
The Program Assistant of Uganda Network of Aids Service Organizations (UNASO), Joseph Nyende said a research by URAA shows that 64 percent of aged persons are sexually active, of which 91 percent never use condoms during sexual intercourse.
He therefore called for a holistic communication strategy to equip the aged with AIDS preventive measures since they are exposed to infection through nursing their HIV/AIDS infected children.
Other amendments being pushed by civil society include provision of the elderly infected with HIV with nutritional support and free health care services in the management of opportunistic infections.
MPs Dr. Chris Baryomunsi and committee chairperson, Rosemary Najjemba, noted that despite being few, it’s no justification to exclude the elderly in HIV/AIDS polices and interventions.
“Latest data shows that scourge is on the increase. It’s vitally important that no segment of society is left behind,” Dr. Baryomunsi said.
An estimated 1.2m Ugandans are living with HIV/AIDS, with an average of 130,000 new infections annually.
This follows a percentage increase in AIDS prevalence rate from 6.7% to7.3% as of September 2011, according to Ministry of Health data. In women, it has increased from 7.5% to 8.3% and from 5% to 6.1% in men.
Out of an estimated 600,000 HIV positive people in need of ARVs, only 300,000 are catered for due to financial constraints, according to the Uganda AIDS Commission.
The HIV/AIDS bill 2010 has evoked enormous debate with some stakeholders calling for expunging of clauses calling for mandatory testing, disclosure of results without consent, and criminalization of attempted and intentional transmission of HIV.