Health, fitness and Food

People with HIV should live a full life

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By Dr. Christine Ondoa

WORLD over, countries that were hit by the HIV scourge in the 1980s are now commemorating 30 years of the epidemic. Many have had different levels of progress, with Uganda being one of the countries that recorded great strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In Uganda, the first cases in the early 1980s had a prevalence peak at 18% in 1992. To date, there have been two million cumulative cases, more than half of whom have succumbed to AIDS. President Yoweri Museveni declared war on the scourge and was hailed internationally. His pronouncement to fight the epidemic recorded a lot of progress and we do not want to see this falling back. We request each of you to continue the battle because this needs a holistic approach involving physical, emotional, spiritual and socio-economic interventions. This is why we use a multi-sectoral approach involving stakeholders from civil society, religious leaders and politicians, among others.

As the Ministry of Health, we believe that HIV prevention, care and treatment interventions are the cornerstone in fighting the AIDS epidemic. These can be achieved by involving all the stakeholders.

We are working in collaboration with development partners and other stakeholders to scale up HIV/AIDS services in the public and private sector. These efforts have resulted in improved HIV prevention, care and treatment. Our interventions have also improved the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services. These services are now being provided in 66% and 83% of the public and private health facilities, respectively.

We have done a lot in improving the access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and as of June 2011, 300,000 clients were actively enrolled on ART, approximately 44% of the national estimated need for ART. This was based on the modified eligibility criterion of less than 350 CD-4 T-cells per micro-litre of blood. We shall continue to strengthen the treatment, care and support programmes for HIV with the objective of improving the quality of life of people infected with and affected by HIV. Currently, we have 485 ART sites and over 1,300 PMTC sites in the country that distribute ARVs free of charge. With this, we have put up programmes to ensure that at least 50% of such people have access to quality HIV/AIDS care and support services. We have also strengthened our AIDS Control Programme in the ministry to ensure that by 2015; at least 80% of PLHA can access ARVs.

The capacity for chronic HIV/AIDS care and management of opportunistic infections has also greatly improved leading to more people living longer.

We are striving hard to ensure that people living with HIV live a full life that is productive and fulfilling. This success has been due to the impressive response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic using a multi-sectoral approach.

We have also developed and updated a number of policies for comprehensive HIV prevention, care and treatment in response to the emerging global and national challenges.

Two months ago, we launched the Health Sector HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan 2010/11-2014/15 to respond to the changing national and international context of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment. This is intended to refocus and revitalise the health sector response to the epidemic. With this, we hope to reduce new HIV infection in the general population by 50% in 2015.

Currently, the HIV prevalence has remained high at about 6.5%. Unfortunately, the number of newly-infected people has more than doubled since 2005, but the impact is caused by the rapidly increasing population.

These new infections are largely due to HIV discordance especially among sexually stable couples, concurrent multiple sexual partners, low rate of male circumcision, poor condom use, transactional sex, cross-generation sex and complacency due to improved access to ART. We recorded 135,000 new infections in 2005, 132,000 in 2007 but 2009 saw only 124,000 new infections.

I appeal to the general public to join the Government and supplement her efforts in fighting HIV. I also appeal to those living with HIV to take their ARV medications appropriately, take Septrin prophylaxis daily and honour every appointment made by the health professionals. With the appropriate dosage of ARVs, one can live a full and productive life.

The writer is the Minister of Health

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