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Women taking lead in ending AIDS

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Added 8th March 2019 02:22 PM

Programmes designed to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 such as elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda can only be successful by meaningfully involving women and supporting them to access the services.

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Dorothy Nassolo

Programmes designed to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 such as elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda can only be successful by meaningfully involving women and supporting them to access the services.

By Dorothy Nassolo

Women are pivotal in the fight against HIV and their contribution towards realising an AIDS free generation cannot be underestimated. As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU) re-echoes the need to provide an enabling environment for women living with HIV to live quality and productive lives.  

The prevalence of HIV in Uganda among adults aged 15-64 is 6.2% which corresponds to approximately 1.3 million people living with HIV. The HIV prevalence is, however, higher among women aged 15-64 at 7.6% compared to that of men at 4.7%. This emphasises the need to scale up approaches aimed at reducing barriers to accessing information and HIV related services among women.

Programmes designed to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 such as elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda can only be successful by meaningfully involving women and supporting them to access the services.

Great strides have been realised, but more needs to be done by, among other things, getting services closer to communities through equipping and upgrading Health Center IIs to Health Center IIIs.

This will reduce distances expectant mothers travel in pursuit of antenatal services. Staffing norms should be revised to increase the number of health workers, as a way of addressing the issue of work overload, which in most cases, compromises the quality of services provided in public health facilities.

There is urgent need to increase domestic financing for the health sector and HIV in particular as this will address most of the challenges at hand thus increasing access to and utilisation of the much desired HIV services by women.

Men have a very significant role to play in regard to increasing uptake of eMTCT services by women. They have the responsibility to accompany their partners to antenatal appointments. This not only provides moral support to women, but also provides an opportunity for the men to also be tested for HIV, initiated on treatment, if found positive or be advised on how to remain negative in case it is a sero discordant couple. Some women are neglected by their male partners after learning of their HIV positive status, leaving them with the responsibility of single-handedly fending for the children but this must stop.

NAFOPHANU through the “Towards an AIDS Free Generation in Uganda” (TAFU) project funded by Aidsfonds focuses at empowering and building capacity of community resource persons to trace, refer, enroll and retain children into HIV care thus improving linkages between communities and health facilities. Caregivers of children living with HIV are empowered through support groups and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to boost their welfare.

All expectant mothers should test for HIV, attend antenatal care for all the required times during pregnancy as advised by health workers. Those that are HIV positive on the eMTCT programme should adhere to their treatment. With the recently launched consolidated guidelines for prevention and treatment of HIV in Uganda, HIV positive mothers and their partners should embrace the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, by taking their babies for the 1st PCR within 6–8 weeks or the earliest opportunity thereafter, 2nd PCR at nine months thereafter and 3rd PCR six weeks after cessation of breastfeeding.

Care givers should be supported to prevent HIV among children as well as addressing the unique antiretroviral treatment adherence challenges that affect children living with HIV. Women and girls have the potential to cause positive change in society just like or even more than their male counterparts.

It is every one’s responsibility, therefore, to provide them with equal opportunities for sustainable transformation. Empowerment of women and girls should be embraced as it is core to reducing vulnerabilities that pre-expose them to HIV.  

Together for a Positive Difference

The writer is the communications officer of the National Forum of People Living with HIV and AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU).

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