By Juliet Waiswa and Elvis Basudde
Over 1000 women living with HIV on islands have decried the payment of sh3, 000 as a condition before they are given antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) at Bugombe Health Centre III, saying they cannot afford.
They also complain that they have to spend close to sh30, 000 on transport costs to travel to Entebbe Grade B hospital to get their ARVs. The hospitals where they access their ARVs are too far for them.
“Usually due to transport constraints, by the time we get to the health facilities we find that they are already closed,” said Grace Tusingira, a resident of Kiimi Island. Tusingira regretted that this is the lifestyle of all women living with HIV who resident on the Islands.
“The challenge of transport costs has made many women living with HIV to drop off the treatment hence frustrating HIV treatment adherence and subsequently resulting in increased death rates on the islands,” she says.
The women raised their concerns during a two-day training workshop for women living with HIV held at Kasenyi, Entebbe recently. The women came from the Islands of Kiimi, Myende and Nsazi in Mukono district and Kasenyi Landing site in Wakiso district.
The workshop was organized by the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa (ICWEA) in partnership with Uganda Virus Research Institute and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (iavi)
“Transport costs coupled with the money demanded by health facilities as Presque to get ARVs are enough to scare us to go and access treatment,” said Faith Kosaya from Myende Island. She says at Bugombe Health Centre III, they are forced to pay sh. 3,000 to be given ARVs and if you don’t have it, it is better off staying at home.
Kosaya said that transport from Myende Island to Bugombe Health Centre III is sh. 15,000 using a commuter motor cycle (Boda-boda) and sh.40, 000 if you have to hire a boat. The women lashed at government for building health centers which neither have drugs nor health workers.
The only means of transport to and from Kiimi Island is by water, and it takes five hours to travel by boat to reach the mainland at Ggaba or Kasenyi landing sites. There are two camps on the island; Kiimi Kachanga and Kiimi Banga.
According to the LC1 chairman, Gerald Kiza, there are over 4,000 people in both camps. HIV prevalence is estimated at 75%. Out of 20 people who were tested, 16 of them were found HIV-positive, according to a survey by the Seventh Day Adventist.
“For so long, we have been neglected by the Government. While thousands of projects have been introduced in various parts of the country. We have always lagged behind,” says Betty Namwalo, 62, a resident.
Namwalo said they lose many women in labour due to lack of midwives on the islands, and they find difficulties in fulfilling treatment appointments when the tides are high on waters as they travel to health centres on the landing site to get medicines.
The women also observed that some health workers have a tendency of ignoring them because of their HIV positive status. They are also forced to buy drugs at exorbitant prices from private clinics when there are shortages of drugs at government’s Nsanzi and Bugombe health centres.
The program officer ICW/EA, Dorothy Namutamba, explained that 60% of the women living on the islands and the landing sites suffer HIV/AIDS because some still believe they are being bewitched by neighbors, while others have husbands who have multiple partners.
“We target women living with HIV on the islands and landing sites in order to assist them know their rights and responsibility as they struggle to access treatment. We want to ensure that policy makers address their (HIV positive women) problems,” Namutamba.
She said ICWLA partners with iavi in order to reach out to this vulnerable group of women to solve their problems and challenges they face on the islands.
Government should set up hospitals on the islands and equip them with health workers, mid wives and ART and family planning services.
The money they are conditioned to pay before they get their ARVs at the health centres should be removed.
Standard toilets should be constructed on the islands as many that have been constructed cannot last due to the soft soil on the island. Government should regularly organize workshops and trainings as they empower people.
Water taps and centers where HIV/AIDS patients get their medicines should be set up on the islands.