By Jeff Lule
Due to the increase in the HIV prevalence rate, the Government has decided to use cultural institutions to curb new HIV infections.
According to Sarah Opendi, the state minister for primary health care, the move followed the National AIDS Indicator Survey in which it was reported that the prevalence rate had risen from 6.4% to 7.4%.
“The surge in the prevalence rate indicates that there is laxity, both by the Government and among the public,” she noted.
Opendi was speaking at the launch of the Elimination of Mother-to-Child-Transmission (EMCT) Option B+ programme at Bulange, Mengo in Kampala. Under the programme, HIV-positive mothers are enrolled on ARVs for life as a strategy to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. New born babies of HIV-positive mothers are also given a syrup for six weeks.
The director general of health services, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, said they started with Buganda kingdom because it is in the central region, an area that records the highest prevalence rate at 10.1%.
According to Opendi, the programme will be rolled out to other cultural institutions countrywide and the respective cultural leaders engaged.
“The strategy can be effective if the institutions embrace the programmes. The cultural leaders can easily interact with the locals to effectively put the message across,” she noted. “We are ready to work with these institutions and support them to make sure they sensitise and create awareness about the problem.”
The queen of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda, said the strategy was long overdue, adding that cultural leaders are closer to their people.
“We are ready to work with the ministry to stop this problem. We want our people to behave responsibly to protect their lives,” she said, noting that this would help to effectively prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“We want to make sure babies in Buganda are born HIV free in the next two years and we hope this is embraced in other areas. A child has a right to be born free of HIV,” she emphasised.
Through the cultural institutions, Opendi said they intend to start public education campaigns to create an HIV/AIDS-free generation.
She explained that the leaders at various levels will be working with several partners and ministry officials to sensitise the people.
Opendi noted that the national prevalence rate fell from 30% in the early 1980s to 6.4% in 2006 because of the effective public awareness campaigns countrywide.
“If we managed to record success in the last three decades, we can still get back on track. People need to understand that HIV still exists and kills. We need them to change their lifestyle and sexual behaviour and also go for tests to know there statuses and start medication if found positive,” Opendi said.
According to Aceng, 2,000 health facilities have the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission Option B+ Programme and it is free for mothers. “We have realised that many mothers and their partners do not know their status and end up passing the virus to their children.”
She said according to records, over 14,500 children were born with HIV last year, yet many cases are not recorded since many mothers do not give birth in health facilities.
“We want cultural leaders to sensitise their communities on the importance of utilising health facilities. This will help them start medication early enough to protect the unborn babies,” she noted.