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Why HIV prevalence is 4 times higher among young women than men in Uganda

FILE PHOTO: Testing for AIDS in Uganda recently.

AFRICAN ARGUMENTS | Alice McCool & Brian Mutebi | In an informal settlement in central Kampala, Yusuf Byaruhanga sits within the faded pastel walls of a school. With his walking stick resting next to his chair, the 63-year-old talks openly about the fact he is HIV-positive.

“Most men fear shame, stigma and discrimination, or losing their job, so they conceal their status,” he says. “Some don’t see the benefit of coming out as positive.”

Byaruhanga is part of a “positive living group” whose members support each other, share experiences and educate the wider community about HIV and sexual health. They have even started a small business together making and selling crafts.

This group is part of a movement in Uganda that has helped to destigmatise the disease, but even individuals like Byaruhanga still uphold some less-than-progressive views. Asked whether it is important to disclose one’s HIV-positive status to potential sexual partners so they can give informed consent, he brushes away the suggestion. “If a woman loves you, they will sleep with you regardless of your status,” he says.

These kinds of attitudes are important. Although HIV rates continue to decrease in Uganda, it is still significantly more prevalent among women than men. According to a 2016-17 national survey, 7.6% of women are living with HIV compared to 4.7% of men. This disparity is particularly alarming among 15-24 years old for whom the disease is four times higher in females than males.

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