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Uganda makes further significant gains in HIV fight

By John Agaba

Added 1st September 2016 10:49 AM

The report shows that infections among children (0 – 14 years) also reduced to 3500 last year, down from 5200 in 2014.

Uganda makes further significant gains in HIV fight

The report shows that infections among children (0 – 14 years) also reduced to 3500 last year, down from 5200 in 2014.

PIC:Director General at the Uganda AIDS Commission Dr. Christine Ondoa

A new report shows that Uganda made "significant progress" in the fight against HIV in the past 12 months, suggesting a possibility for the country to meet the new UN target and end AIDS by 2030.

The HIV/AIDS Uganda Country Progress Report (July 2015 - June 2016) presented at the Annual Joint AIDS Review and Partnership Forum at Silver Springs Hotel in Kampala yesterday, shows the number of  Ugandans who got infected with HIV last year dropped to 83,000 from 95,000 the previous year. 

The report shows that infections among children (0 - 14 years) also reduced to 3500 last year, down from 5200 in 2014.

It estimates that the number of persons living with HIV in 2015 was still high at 1.5m; but the number of AIDS-related deaths had declined to 28,000, from 31,000 the previous year.

Presenting the report, the director general at the Uganda AIDS Commission Dr. Christine Ondoa hailed partners and government for the "positive progress", but called for "special focus on the vulnerable 15 - 24 age group and the marrieds", who dominated the 83,000 new infections.

Dr. Ondoa said: "The country has intensified combination prevention interventions. The national HIV testing services were scaled-up and the programme registered 10 million people (accessing services), up from eight million in 2014."

The report shows atleast 874, 124 persons (of the 1.5 million HIV-positive) were accessing lifesaving ARVs by June 2016 compared to 570, 373 at the end of 2013. Nine of every 10 HIV-positive persons but co-infected with Tuberculosis were receiving treatment at the end of 2015, compared to about eight out of every 10 who accessed the lifesaving drugs in 2014.

It places viral load suppression above 90% (among 42.6% of the 874, 124 persons on treatment who accessed viral load testing). Viral load suppression is much higher at 94.4% among mothers on the elimination of mother to child transmissions (eMTCT) programme and at 74% among children.

But the report that relied mainly on health ministry and other stakeholder qualitative data shows that the number of sexually active men who were circumcised under the Safe Male Circumcision programme dropped to 344, 555 in the last 12 months, compared to 878, 109 who were circumcised the previous year. It estimates that total number of circumcised men at about 2.4 million, out of the 4.8million target.

Joshua Wamboga, the executive director at the Uganda network of AIDS service organizations (UNASO), said the report findings "flashed a light at the end of a very dark tunnel" but said the gains need to be accelerated.

"More and more people need to be tested. (HIV testing coverage is estimated at 63%). Those found positive, started on treatment immediately. There isn't another way around it."

Stella Kentusi, the executive director at the national forum of PLHIV networks in Uganda, called for consolidation of the gains.

She said: "What we need is for persons who don't have the virus to not contract it — to practice safe sex. It will be very unfortunate for children who didn't contract the virus from their mothers because of eMTCT to contract it in their teenage years."

Uganda reached a tipping point when it enrolled 193, 000 persons living with HIV on treatment in 2013, compared to the 140, 000 persons who got infected that year. The country has maintained the tipping point and currently the number of patients on ARVs "more than double" the number of new infections.   

Dr. Joshua Musinguzi, the AIDS Control Programme manager at the health ministry, said: "We are at the verge of eliminating mother-to-child transmissions of HIV. Only 3500, of the 120,000 babies who are exposed to HIV by their mothers, are born with the virus today". "Our target for elimination of mother-to-child transmissions is below 5%."

He said the Global Fund had released an additional $36.6m (sh118b) for purchase of AIDS drugs and other laboratory commodities.

Prof. Vinand Nantulya, the chairperson Uganda AIDS Commission, said it was "everyone's responsibility" to not contract the virus, calling for more accountability in the fight against the virus.

"The report said most of these new HIV infections are contributed by young people between 15 and 24 years and the marrieds. So, we need to be responsible. If you are a teenager, why have unprotected sex and jeopardize your future? If you are married and can't manage to keep faithful, why not use a condom? You are going to pick the virus and bring it to your partner." the chairperson said.

The veteran AIDS activist specifically called on men to test for HIV, saying they (men) were "pinching" their wives (who tested HIV-positive during antenatal visits) ARVS fuelling drug resistance.

"Men need to get tested. Because the wife is on ARVs, it does not mean that he has the virus. We have cases that are discordant."

He asked patients to adhere to treatment, saying increase in drug resistance would sabotage government's efforts against the disease.

"Because some people are not adhering to treatment, we have cases of drug resistance. But if you fail on line one, the second line is very expensive and has more side effects. The third line is even more expensive and government currently does not buy it for patients. You'll buy it yourself," he said


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