UGANDA: Higher HIV rate cause for concern
Consistent condom use remains low, according to the survey (file photo)
KAMPALA, 21 March 2012 (IRIN) - Uganda's HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has risen from 6.4 percent to 6.7 percent, according to a recently released national AIDS Indicator Survey.
The population-based HIV serological survey showed that 6.7 percent of adults aged between 15 and 49 were HIV-positive, while at least 500,000 people have been infected with the virus in the past five years.
Uganda's HIV prevalence fell from a high of 18 percent in 1992 to 6.1 percent in 2002; this rate later stabilized and then stagnated at about 6.4 percent in 2004, when the last such survey was conducted.
Some 7.7 percent of women are positive, compared to 5.6 percent of men, according to the 25-page preliminary report launched by Health Minister Christine Ondoa on 15 March in the capital, Kampala. The full report is due for release in June 2012.
Government officials have played down the higher prevalence. "The increase is not much… because of the population growth; there are new people entering into the age bracket of 15 to 19," said Dr Zainab Akol, programme manager for HIV in the Ministry of Health.
However, activists are concerned that the new statistics are the result of gaps in the government's HIV prevention programmes.
"I don't agree that the rise is merely as a result of an age shift - prevention efforts do not match the needs of the population... it is not uncommon to run out of basic [HIV prevention] supplies like condoms
," said Milly Katana, long-term activist and one of the inaugural board members of the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
"We are becoming increasingly concerned about risk compensation as a result of failing HIV prevention messages," she added. "People, especially the elites in cities, have a false sense of safety... we did work 10 years ago but it is not enough; behaviour change is not sustainable without regular doses of information."
Despite years of condom promotion, the survey found that just 28.1 percent of women and 31.4 percent of men aged between 15 and 19 used a condom during their last sexual encounter, dropping to 6.7 percent and 12.2 percent respectively among 30- to 39-year-olds.
The survey found that infection levels in both sexes were highest among those in their 30s and 40s, and lowest in the 15 to 19 age group.
HIV infections were highest among the widowed (30.7 percent), followed by those who were divorced or separated (16.3 percent) or unmarried (2.7 percent), while HIV prevalence among married or cohabiting couples was 6.6 percent.
The survey results indicate that uncircumcised men are slightly more likely to be HIV-positive than those who have been circumcised. The government has embarked on a national voluntary medical male circumcision programme
aimed at lowering the number of new HIV infections.
However, Katana said the Ministry of Health was not working hard enough to combat misinformation about the procedure.
"False information is being printed in newspapers, discussed on the airwaves, making people doubt the effectiveness of male circumcision [for HIV prevention], but the Ministry has not responded - they need to be more proactive," she said.
The Minister of Health told IRIN/PlusNews that HIV prevention efforts will be intensified in order to bring down prevalence.
"We are going to consolidate the gains made, there should be no complacency," Ondoa said. "Sexual networks are unacceptable and should be checked. People should embrace safe living and faithfulness."