By Francis Kagolo
The United States has assured Uganda of continued funding for HIV/AIDS research and treatment despite the recent storm over the passing of the controversial anti-homosexuality Act.
Dan Travis, the public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kampala, said Uganda has been allocated $323m (about sh805b) for this fiscal year 2014 under the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
At least 60% is dedicated to treatment while 40% is earmarked to accelerate prevention projects like safe male medical circumcision and condom supply.
This means HIV funding from US has remained the same as last year. Consequently, the 507,000 HIV positive Ugandans who get free anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs from PEPFAR-supported agencies have no cause to worry.
“The key thing is not the money but the number of people who are supported so they can work, study and make a contribution to their families,” Travis observed.
He was addressing health reporters who underwent training in health reporting at the US embassy in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb on Thursday.
Launched in 2003, PEPFAR’s massive funding has made ARVs widely available, saving millions of lives worldwide. According to a 2009 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the program had averted about 1.1 million deaths in Africa and reduced the death rate due to AIDS in the countries involved by more than 10%.
In Uganda, where HIV prevalence increased from 6.4% in 2006 to 7.3% currently, the US has injected over $2.3b (about sh5.6 trillion) to fight HIV in the last decade.
Of the 577,000 Ugandans currently on ARVS, 87% (507,000) are funded by PEPFAR.
Travis dispelled rumours that the US had joined some other western countries to cut aid to Uganda after President Museveni signed the anti-homosexuality Bill in February.
He said the US is waiting to see what guidelines and regulations the Government will create to implement the Act and what their impact will be on the people.
“It’s better that we know that (first). If the guidelines come out, we shall work in respect to those guidelines and implementing regulations,” he stated.
On the controversial HIV Prevention and Control Bill 2010, which Parliament passed on Tuesday, Travis said they shared the concerns of Ugandan medical experts.
“It can complicate treatment. We want the Government to look very critically about the Bill and what the experts are saying about it.” He declined to offer advice about the proposed law, saying he lacks the mandate to ‘legislate for Uganda.”
Ugandan anti-HIV activists have opposed Clause 21 of the Bill, among others. It permits disclosure of one’s HIV status without his/her consent when in the opinion of the medical practitioner, the HIV-positive person poses a clear and present danger to a person with whom he/she is in close and continuous contact, including, but not limited to a sexual partner.
They argue that this erodes confidentiality, which is an ethical conduct of medical workers.