New HIV infections occur because of some new lovers not being wise.
Safina Nanyonga is an exceptional 18-year old girl. Unlike many young girls her age, she is wiser. She had a boyfriend who didn't know his HIV status yet he didn't want to use condoms.
He was also reluctant to go for an HIV test. Nanyonga knew her HIV status-she was negative.
Good alright, they would have sex but Nanyonga could use PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) but didn't tell her boyfriend she was using PrEP. She had been sensitized about PrEP, a type of HIV prevention-a new medicine that you take to help you stay HIV negative.
Although she really loved John, she could not risk to have unprotected sex. John eventually accepted and went for an HIV test. He was found HIV- positive! Nanyonga had survived being infected by her boyfriend.
New HIV infections occur because of some new lovers not being wise. If all young girls were as wise and empowered as Nanyonga, there would be significant reduction of new HIV infections in our country," remarked an HIV activist.
Like Nanyonga, people of Mukono have reasons to celebrate as they are going to benefit from a new campaign that has been launched in the district with the aim of ensuring HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-25 years.
The two-year campaign dubbed Young Women Lead, Evidence, Advocate, Research, Network (LEARN), is a young women-led mobilization, advocacy and research project, which aims to promote PrEP awareness amongst adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in Uganda and Kenya and provide evidence to inform effective PrEP rollout for this population.
PrEP is an antiretroviral (ARV) pill that HIV negative people take every day to considerably reduce their chances of getting HIV. PrEP is taken by someone before they might be exposed to HIV.
Adoloscent girls and young women who thronged Mukono during the launch of the LEARN project
The project is spearheaded by ATHENA Initiative in partnership with PIPE in Kenya and International Community of Women Living with HIV in East Africa (ICWEA) in Uganda. LEARN is part of the DREAMS ( Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free and Safe) Innovation Challenge, a PEPFAR funded program that was started with the intention of reducing new HIV infections among young women, and managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. LEARN research project was launched at Mukono resort hotel in Mukono district on Wednesday.
The LEARN project coordinator, Hajjarah Nagadya, said Mukono is one of the districts with a high HIV/AIDS prevalence, 9% higher than the nation rate of 7%. According to the district's population data, the young people aged 15-24 years make up 35% (213,638 people). But the burden of HIV/AIDS among this age group is very high, constituting 9% among young females while in males, it is at 4.4%.
The Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mukono district Jonathan Mukose said as a district they were not doing well in terms of HIV prevention and regretted that the increasing burden of HIV/AIDS infections in the district among young people was worrying local leaders.
"Mukono can only be part of the Presidential Fast-Tuck Initiative to end HIV/AIDS by 2030 if unavailability of commodities like Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and STI drugs like Cefixime is addressed," Mukosa made the revelation during the Lunch of the project.
He also advised partners in the HIV/AIDs struggle in the district to also target men, adding that they are fueling the spread of the disease since most of them do not want to test, yet some have more than one sexual partner.
Also speaking at the same function, Mukono district local government secretary health, gender and security, Samalie Musenero said in general, efforts to reduce HIV infections in young people in Uganda have not succeeded. "We need to acknowledge that, take a deep breath and move forward. I must say the LEARN project is timely," she said
Musenero also observed that there are some pastors especially in Pentecostal churches who are misleading people living with HIV that they are healed and advise them to stop taking medication.
" Some people die when they would not have died. I have buried many people succumbing to AIDS after stopping taking their medication, after being advised by some pastors that they were healed. We ask government to investigate such churches and punish the culprits," she said.
Why focus on adolescent girls and young women?
While a growing number of children who were born with HIV are surviving into adolescence, the majority of young people acquire the virus through sex, and young women are at particular risk.
Uganda is one of the countries in the world where the prevalence is rising despite various interventions being implemented. It is shocking to learn that 575 adolescents and young women between 15 to 24 years in Uganda get infected with HIV on a weekly basis (MOH report), Hajjarah .
UNAIDS's new statistics have indicated that 575 adolescents and young women ( 15-24 year) have become a vulnerable group who are getting infected much more than others in Uganda.
"Do not be deceived, these are not girls born with HIV but newly infected every week! When they clock 15 years they become vulnerable to getting HIV," she said.
Statistics show that AIDS is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls in Eastern and Southern Africa. As many as 7,000 new infections a week are occurring in our most vulnerable girls and young women in Eastern and Southern Africa-people who are critical to the future of their countries.
Globally, 16% of women living with HIV/AIDS are aged 15-24, with 80% of these women living in Sub-Sahara Africa.
The launch was attended by the young women who are expected to gather meaningful information from their communities and drive the HIV prevention agendas that responsive to young women's needs, priorities and preferences.
Hajjarah said that apart from Mukono, the project is also being implemented in Mityana and Mubende districts and it is an opportunity for young women to have a voice in something that may directly impact their lives.
Martha Akello, the communications officer of the organization said the meeting was organized, among other, objectives to create awareness on the realities of young women as they access sexual and reproductive health services in facilities around Mukono.
"Young people's knowledge about HIV/AIDS and the decisions they make about sex were influenced by a whole range of factors including age, gender, education level and geography," she said.
Hajjara said that PrEP doesn't provide 100% protection against HIV, but if you take it correctly, it is more than 90% effective, which is a great deal of protection. PrEP doesn't replace existing HIV prevention approaches. It is one option among others such as using condoms consistently and correctly and reducing the number of sexual partners, she said.
People can take PrEP during times in their lives when they think they may be at risk of getting HIV - you do not have to take it for the rest of your life. You should only use PrEP if you are HIV negative. For adolescent girls and young women, PrEP must be taken daily, even if you are not having sex every day.