By John Agaba
An additional 240, 000 people living with HIV and whose CD4 cell count has dropped to 350 or below will be started on treatment next year, Aids Commission director general, Dr. Kihumuro Apuuli, has said.
In a telephone interview, Apuuli said, the government wants to follow on last year’s commitment in the fight against HIV, by enrolling more people on ART.
“Last year we reached the tipping point. For the first time we put more people, 193, 000, on treatment compared to the 140, 000 who got infected. This year we want to enroll even more,” he said.
By the end of October last year (2013), he said, the number of people receiving treatment stood at 577,000, representing 77% of the people who need treatment, under the previous World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline of treating people once their CD4 count dropped to 350.
According to him, the government is yet to implement the new guidelines that ask people to be started on treatment once their CD4 cell count dropped to 500.
Kihumuro said this development of putting an additional 240, 000 people on treatment will go some way into addressing the remaining 23% of the people who need treatment but are currently not accessing it.
“What we need is every one to follow the example of the President and go for testing,” he said.
President Yoweri Museveni in November 2013 publically tested for HIV to encourage Ugandans to also go for testing.
“After testing, those found positive will be referred to appropriate centres and if they qualify be started on treatment,” added Apuuli.
“They will be advised on how to live positively,” he said, adding that having HIV today was not a death sentence unless when you refuse to go for testing and start treatment.
Those found negative, he said, will also be counseled on how they can stay negative.
“We want to put as many people on treatment. Because, also, when you put people on treatment they become less infectious and you reduce the amount of the virus circulating in the population, at the end reducing the numbers of new infections,” he said.
HIV prevalence in Uganda stands 7.3%. Last year, about 140, 000 people contracted the virus.
Apuuli said they will also scale up elimination of mother-to-child transmissions (EMTCT) services in the country, targeting further reduction of the numbers of children born with the virus.
He said that last year the numbers of babies born with the virus dropped from 23, 000 in 2012 to 15, 000. They stood at 25, 000 in 2011.
“We are making strides,” he said, “by 2015, the target is that no baby is born with the virus.”
“We want every Ugandan to take responsibility in the fight against HIV, to be faithful and if he or she cannot, to use a condom,” said Apuuli.
“All women in the country, we ask you, immediately you get pregnant attend antenatal care and get tested for HIV,” he said. “If you are positive, you will be put on treatment for life. And your baby will also be given treatment so he or she does not contract the virus.”
He said EMTCT coverage currently stands at about 67%, but that is because many women do not attend antenatal care.