By Francis Kagolo
Uganda has the highest percentage of new HIV infections in the eastern Africa, the joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said in a report released Wednesday.
Globally, the report puts Uganda in third position among the top 15 countries that accounted for more than 75% of the 2.1 million new HIV infections that occurred last year.
South Africa tops the global list accounting for 16% new infections in the world, followed by Nigeria (10), and then Uganda with 7%.
Other countries with high new infections include Kenya which tied with Mozambique in the fifth position and Tanzania in the ninth position.
The report says AIDS-related deaths are at their lowest since the peak in 2005, having declined by 35%.
According to the report, there was a 33% drop in new HIV infections among all ages in sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2013 and a 19% reduction since 2010.
Despite these gains, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most severely affected, with nearly one in every 25 adults (4.4%) living with HIV.
Uganda accounts for 10% of the 1.5 million [1.3 million–1.6 million] new HIV infections recorded in sub-Saharan Africa in 2013. This means at least 150,000 Ugandans got infected last year, up from the 143,000 recorded in the 2012.
Three countries—Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda—represented almost 48% of the new HIV infections in the region.
“The number of new HIV infections is falling in every country in the region (sub-Saharan Africa) except Angola and Uganda where increases were recorded,” says the report.
Named the Gap Report, it is an in-depth regional analysis of HIV epidemics and the reasons for the widening gap between people gaining access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and those being left behind.
It attributes the high new infections in Uganda and other countries in the region to inadequate condom use, low access to family planning services, and the slow pace of safe male medical circumcision.
Only eight male condoms were available per year for each sexually active individual. Among young people, condom access was even lower in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.
But Dr. Joshua Musinguzi, the national HIV/AIDS control programme manager, contested the findings, saying although the epidemic is still bad, Uganda is experiencing a downward trend in new infections.
“Our annual new infections were 160,000 in 2010. The figure declined to 137,000 last year after we implemented the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (EMTCT) programme,” he explained.
“UNAIDS often rounds up the numbers and uses confidence intervals of the highest and lowest bounds. And they normally round off and go for the upper bound which could have happened in this case,” Musinguzi stated.
He said 742,000 men were circumcised last year, which is “one of the best performances in the region”. He said the number of HIV positive people on ARVs also increased to about 600,000.
Musinguzi, however, could neither confirm nor refute the finding that Uganda’s annual new HIV infections were the highest in eastern Africa and third in the world.
“I am not saying we are on top of the situation. The infections are still high but the downward trend we have started seeing gives us hope,” he stated.
The report shows how focusing on populations that are underserved and at higher risk of HIV will be key to ending the AIDS epidemic.
This call comes a few weeks after the US and other western countries withdrew HIV funding from Uganda over the anti-gay law enacted last year.
The underserved groups, according to the report, include the elderly, prisoners, and people with disabilities, displaced persons, and adolescent girls and young women.
Others are migrants, drug abusers, sex workers, children and pregnant women living with HIV.
To ‘begin the end of the AIDS epidemic, the people who are at increased risk of and vulnerable to HIV infection need the fullest access to HIV prevention and treatment services,” the report says.
It highlights the continued need to invest in condoms and other prevention programmes including boosting access to family planning services.
The report also shows that with widespread stigma and discrimination, punitive legal environments, barriers to civil society engagement and lack of investment in tailored programmes are holding back results.
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