"The young people ought to be more responsible but we can't just fold our hands if they have failed to listen to reason."
By Nicholas Wassajja & Martin Kitubi
A cross-section of mayors in Kampala and Wakiso have called on government to stop licensing the manufacturing of sachet liquor in the country.
The mayors said consumption of cheap liquor and drugs especially among the youth in urban areas is a major driver of HIV/AIDs prevalence.
Led by Kira municipality mayor Julius Mutebi, the urban leaders called on government to ignore the revenue collected from companies that manufacture potent sachet gin that is cheaper than the bottled one to save the unemployed youth who consume the content.
"The young people ought to be more responsible but we can't just fold our hands if they have failed to listen to reason," he said.
"The companies producing these sachets should not be licensed, otherwise we shall lose an entire generation because the stuff [gin] is so strong that once used they can hardly think twice about protection for sex," added Mutebi.
The remarks were made during a dialogue for the Alliance of Mayors on Health and HIV/AIDs in Africa-Uganda (AMICAALL) on Wednesday.
According to AMICAALL data, the major drivers for HIV/AIDs and non-communicable diseases in urban areas are drug and tobacco smoking and alcohol use, with 10% of the young population currently smoking while pure alcohol consumption in liters being 9.8%.
Kampala Central mayor Charles Sserunjogi reported of increased consumption of both recorded and unrecorded gin that is made from cheaper unapproved ingredients among the youth.
Joyce Nabossa Ssebugwawo, the Rubaga division mayor, attributed the increased HIV/AIDs prevalence in her area to gender-based violence exacerbated by alcohol drinking.
Jerrycans of locally brewed gin confiscated by police in Moroto. (File photo)
In Africa, Uganda is second to South Africa where 2,363 people reportedly get infected with HIV/AIDs every week. And of these, 570 young women aged 15-24 get infected, according to the UNAIDS 2013 report.
But for Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, government also needs to allocate more funds to the health sector of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and other urban councils.
"It is absurd that Kampala still has pit latrines and spring wells yet we are talking a modern city. We have concentrated so much on infrastructure development and ignored people's lives," said Lukwago.
"The only way we can get to zero is by increasing funding for basic health and sanitation as a starting point."
KCCA director of public health, Dr. David Seruka, agreed and said they depend largely on donor funds to facilitate health activities like HIV/AIDs sensitization in the city.
Seruka said the low funding for the sector demobilizes strategies for sanitation which has a direct effect to combating HIV/AIDs prevalence.
"Kampala has a high water table so having pit latrines and the absence of a sewer line contaminates water but all these can't be addressed without resources," he said.
AMICAALL, in appreciation of his contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDs, awarded Musa Bungudu, the UNAIDS country director who has retired.
On his part, Bungudu re-echoed the need for government to set in place new strategies to prevent new infections among high-at-risk groups like girls and prostitutes.
"With tough measures, we can enforce abstinence among the unmarried youth rather than urge condom use and if determined we can push the levels of babies born with HIV to zero by 2017".