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Blog: Where does married love fit into Uganda's prevention plan?

Nairobi, 5 February 2009 (IRIN) - This July, I will exchange marriage vows with the man I hope to live with for the rest of my life, surrounded by family and friends; it's bound to be one of the happiest days of my life.

It is also the day I will become the new face of HIV in my home country, Uganda, where married people aged between 30 and 40 are now the section of the population most likely to become infected with the virus.

It's pretty frustrating, to be honest. When I was a teenager, people aged 15 to 24 were most at risk, and after a brief respite of five or six years, here I am again, right back in the crosshairs of HIV.

But what's even more exasperating than the feeling that the pandemic seems to be stalking me and my generation, is the fact that even though the government and NGOs have been aware of the risks married people face for almost two years now, there hasn't been any perceptible shift in my country's prevention policy.

There are no billboards, radio spots or TV ads addressing married people, telling them how dangerous it is to have sex outside marriage - or how crucial it is to wear a condom if you do step outside the marriage - or urging couples to get tested during, and not just before, marriage.

I'm sure part of the reason it's difficult to find a suitable communication campaign for couples lies in the fact that in Uganda, sex outside marriage - especially for men - lives in this parallel world where it exists and is widely accepted, but isn't spoken about publicly.

Well, whatever is holding back the people responsible for formulating policy, it's time they realised that silence about any aspect of HIV can only mean death.

In the 1980s, the Ugandan government made real progress in the fight against AIDS by overcoming cultural norms and talking openly about sex. It's time they also started to speak openly about sex outside stable sexual relationships.

kr/he

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