By Nasser Kasozi Alandwanaho
The United States has approved Uganda’s 18th PEPFAR country operation plan committing over Sh1.4 trillion (about $398.5m) to fund AIDs fight in the financial year 2021/2022.
The US through President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the leading funder of Uganda’s HIV response for decades.
“I am pleased to inform you that just last week, the 18th PEPFAR Country Operation Plan for Uganda was approved,” Brown Natalie said.
Natalie made the remarks during a national event to mark International AIDS Candlelight Memorial held at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Auditorium in Kampala yesterday.
“The plan articulates a continued commitment to increasing treatment literacy and messaging to expand knowledge, reducing stigma, and reaching every Ugandan who needs prevention, testing, and treatment to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030,” Natalie said.
The Ambassador disclosed that US has invested over $4b in AIDS fight in Uganda in about two decades.
The $4b, Natalie said was part of the $90b US has invested in the global AIDS fight in the last 18 years.
This year’s national theme for the Candlelight Memorial event was “Freeing workplaces of HIV/AIDS-based stigma and discrimination.”
The event was organized by Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) in Partnership with National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and People living with HIV (PLHIV) with support from AIDS Development Partners.
“As we honor the memory of those who have lost their lives to AIDS, the US re-commits itself to helping keep the light on HIV globally with the assurance that it will remain illuminated for all those who need it free of judgment, stigma, and discrimination,” Natalie said.
The European Union (EU) Ambassador to Uganda, Attilio Pacifici citing significant contribution of EU to AIDS fight in Uganda since 1980s said the gains against the killer disease efforts need to be sustained.
The outgoing Presidency minister, Esther Mbayo who was the chief guest tasked the development partners to continue propping-up government in the fight against the scourge as the country lays strategies of providing its own funding. Mbayo indicated that stigma was a major bottleneck in the fight against AIDS.
“Stigma is the main reason why people are relactant to get tested and know their status and consistently take their ARVs. This results into increased new HIV infection and a high number of AIDs related death,” she said.
She attributed Uganda’s success in the fight against HIV/AIDS to the deliberate move by President Yoweri Museveni to speak out against the disease at the time the entire world shunned a way in early 1990s.
The intervention according to Mbayo was significant in the reduction of HIV/AIDS prevalence from 18% in 1990s to 6% as of today.
“On the onset of the epidemic many countries did not want to talk about HIV/AIDS for fear of losing out on many activities but the President stood and spoke out and that’s how Uganda managed to sail-through,” she said
She emphasized; “If we perioritise prevention, then we are sure of eliminating HIV/AIDS by 2030. And prevention goes with behavial change.”
The former chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS, Wamala Nambozzo, urged government to plan well for people living with HIV/AIDS in case it decides to re-impose lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 citing that they suffered a lot during the lockdown and some have never recovered to date.
According to UNAIDS country office, the HIV annual infections in the country have reduced from 89,000 cases in 2010 to 32,000 in 2020.
Jotham Mubangizi, the country UNAIDS representative, said new HIV infections declined by 62% from 100,000 to 38,000 in the period.
“Further implying that on daily basis 100 People are infected with HIV and 800 on a weekly basis. Let us ensure that we take up the available prevention services, and purposefully remove the inequalities.”
He added that AIDS-related deaths have declined by 72% from 89,200 to 22,000. This however implies that we have 60 AIDS-related death daily and 460 on a weekly basis.