By Francis Kagolo
MOST HIV-positive men are reluctant to seek treatment compared to women, according to revelations from the ministry of health and findings from an international research.
Dr. Alex Ario, the anti-retroviral therapy (ART) national coordinator in the ministry of health, yesterday revealed that the ratio of men to women seeking treatment is one to three, meaning that whenever a man seeks treatment, at least three women will show up.
Currently, more than two thirds (about 70%) of the over 570,000 Ugandans on ARVs are women, according to Ario.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a standard anti-retroviral therapy consisting of at least three ARV drugs maximally suppresses the HIV virus and stops its progression.
Although ARVs do not kill the virus, they attack it and stop its multiplication. Experts have also discovered that chances of spreading the virus reduce when one takes ARVs. Ario said not seeking treatment puts HIV-positive men at a higher risk of succumbing to AIDS.
“Men generally have a poor health seeking behaviour. By their nature men want to be strong. Even if they get infected, they will think that they can manage to live until the disease knocks them down,” Ario explained in a phone interview.
He was responding to research conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health in South Africa that showed that several men will die of AIDS instead of seeking help.
The study presented by epidemiologist Till Barnighausen in Boston, US, last week revealed that women in northern KwaZulu-Natal are living longer than men because they are more likely to take ARVs.
Harvard scientists followed 45,688 men and 52,964 women between 2001 and 2011. While there are usually double the numbers of women infected with HIV compared with men, almost the same number of men and women died of AIDS.
Like Ario, Harvard researchers also thought that men might feel it is not masculine to get treatment and called for more research to find out why most men didn’t want medical help.
About 1.5 million Ugandans have HIV, with the number of women slightly higher than that of men.
The prevalence rate increased from 7.5% to 8.3% among women between 2006 and 2011 compared to 5-6.1% among men, according to the 2011 national AIDS indicator survey report. Although generally more women than men have HIV, those living in urban centres are the most affected.
More than twenty antiretroviral drugs have been approved for treating HIV worldwide. Since their discovery about three decades ago, ARVS have prolonged the life of millions of HIV-positive people thanks to their ability to slow down the replication of the virus in the body.
In Uganda, AIDS related deaths reduced by 30% in the first 10 years of the introduction of ART, according to ministry of health statistics. The number of Ugandans dying from AIDS-related infections was about 50,000 per year in the early 2000s, down from over 75,000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
However, Dr. Ario expressed displeasure over men’s reluctance to take ARVs, despite campaigns like compulsory testing of couples when a woman gets pregnant that have been introduced to encourage them take ARVs. He said it is hampering progress against the pandemic.