Sunday June 16, 2019

Uganda Remembers AIDS Victims by Marking ‘International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day’

According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people

0
//
AIDS
FILE - A campaign supporter lights candles in the Philippines as part of commemorations of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Quezon city, metro Manila, the Philippines, May 14, 2016. VOA

Uganda is marking International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day with activities to remember the estimated 2 million Ugandans who have died of the disease.

While the government and development partners have increased campaigns for HIV awareness, however, the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease keep many Ugandans fearful from learning of or talking about their HIV status, says those who carry the virus.

Twenty-five-year-old Namanya Martin Paul was born with HIV. Having lost his father to AIDS at the age of 2, he only learned about his status at age 10 when his mother, also HIV positive, was attending antenatal care. His other three siblings were then found to be HIV-positive. Paul was forced to change schools due to discrimination until he made a decision to open up.

“It’s not easy. There’s a particular point in time where a nurse got to know my situation, where I was keeping my medication and she actually, like, made it very open to school,” Paul said. “So, I called for a school parade and told these people, this is who I am. Am living with HIV, am taking my medication. And, you need to support me.”

AIDS
According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people. Flickr

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness. According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the country records 50,000 new infections annually, about one-third of them being young people. Sarah Nakku, the U.N. AIDS community mobilization adviser, says many infected people are careful about revealing their status.

“We do have laws that discriminate against people living with HIV. … That instead of allowing people to come out openly,” Nakku said. “Incidentally, people decide to hide because they do not want to fall victims of the law. We also have schools where discrimination does happen. If you don’t tap into the teachers, this young person cannot be supported to adhere on treatment.”

In 2018, the government launched an initiative that demands every institution, both government and private, address the needs of HIV-positive people as part of its workplace policy.

Dr. Nelson Musoba, director-general of the Uganda AIDS Commission, says that even though the government has set up more effective measures to curb the disease, Ugandans need to be more careful about exposing themselves to HIV.

HIV
School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. VOA

ALSO READ: Missouri Assembly Approves Bill to Prohibit Women from Seeking Abortion

“So, we also have the pre-exposure prophylaxis, which the HIV-negative partner takes to ensure that they remain HIV-negative. There’s research going on, on vaccines, on other treatments, but we need to stay alive for us to benefit from those technologies. We can’t afford to be reckless just because there’s treatment,” Musoba said.

The Ministry of Health says Uganda is close to achieving its “90-90-90” target, set in 2014. The aim is for 90 percent of people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent who test positive to enroll in care and treatment, and 90 percent of those in treatment to achieve “viral load suppression” — that is, for the virus to become inactive. (VOA)

Next Story

The HIV Spread in Pakistan: Government And UN Investigating Causes

Some also blame unsafe injection practices by quack doctors for contributing to the spread of HIV. Government officials estimate about 600,000 unqualified doctors are unlawfully operating in Pakistan and 270,000 of them are practicing in Sindh. 

0
HIV patients take part in an awareness session at Pakistan Society, a nongovernmental organization drop-in center, in Karachi, Nov. 30, 2013. Pixabay

Officials in Pakistan and the United Nations are investigating causes of a new outbreak of HIV infections in a southern district where nearly 400 people have been diagnosed in less than two weeks. Officials confirmed Saturday that nearly 80% of those infected are children, with nearly half of them under age 5.

Local media began reporting about the epidemic two weeks ago from Larkana, a district of Sindh province, which has already experienced three outbreaks in recent years. A local doctor who treated several patients with a single needle and syringe was blamed for spreading the virus, which causes AIDS.

The provincial government rushed teams of public health workers to the district, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, to quickly assess the situation and mobilize resources to curtail further spread of HIV. More than 9,000 people have since been subjected to screening in the affected district, and the process is continuing, Sikandar Memon, the provincial head of the AIDS Control Program, told reporters.

A UNAIDS spokeswoman told VOA that international partners had joined local teams to help quickly carry out an outbreak investigation and address the acute needs of the people infected with HIV, including immediately linking them to treatment, care and support services.

The spokeswoman, Fahmida Khan, said efforts were being made to ensure that unsafe injection and blood transfusion practices were being stopped. She also noted that there were unconfirmed reports of similar HIV outbreaks in surrounding districts.

FILE - Pakistani social activists carry placards during a rally to raise awareness on World AIDS Day in Lahore, Dec. 1, 2016.
Pakistani social activists carry placards during a rally to raise awareness on World AIDS Day in Lahore, Dec. 1, 2016. VOA

Focus of problem

Sindh, with a population of nearly 48 million, accounts for 43% of an estimated 150,000 people living with HIV in Pakistan.

U.N. officials say since 2010, there has been a 57% increase in new HIV/AIDS infections in Pakistan. They noted that among all identified HIV cases in Pakistan, 43,000 are females.

Last year, an estimated 20,000 people were newly identified with HIV in Pakistan and 6,200 people died of AIDS, according to local and U.N. officials.

Khan would not comment on the reasons for the high number of HIV infections among children and the potential causes of the latest outbreak in Larkana, saying “further investigations and epidemiological review is yet required and suggested.”

Provincial authorities also have launched a high-level investigation to ascertain the veracity of the allegations against the local doctor, who already has been taken into police custody.

UN
Pakistani and U.N. officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients, and men who have sex with men. Pixabay

Some also blame unsafe injection practices by quack doctors for contributing to the spread of HIV. Government officials estimate about 600,000 unqualified doctors are unlawfully operating in Pakistan and 270,000 of them are practicing in Sindh.

Also Read: Trade Deal May Be ‘Far Worse’ After 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump Warns China

Critics also blame lapses in Pakistan’s national health system, the low priority given to the problem, corruption, the recent abolition of the federal health ministry and the delegation of its functions to the provinces for the worsening health sector situation and the increase in HIV infections.

Pakistani and U.N. officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients, and men who have sex with men. (VOA)