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Archbishop calls for combined response to HIV and COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: Archbishop Kazimba

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Dr Stephen Kazimba Mugalu has suggested that persons living with HIV should have refills of up to three months to avoid disruptions in the event that they are unable to move to health facilities.

He made the call during a briefing at the media centre in Kampala ahead of the International Aids Candlelight Memorial, a day when the world remembers lives lost to AIDS. Marked on May 17 across the world, the event is also used to honour those who dedicated their lives to helping people living with and affected by HIV and mobilizing communities in solidarity.

Dr Kazimba appealed to Ugandans to join the world from their homes and remember those that have passed on due to AIDS and celebrate people living with HIV for outliving the stigma and discrimination. This year, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda is taking the lead in sensitizing communities about AIDS under the theme ‘Ending AIDS; Faith Communities in Action’.

However, the archbishop observed that the current COVID-19 pandemic has stretched the health system and overshadowed other pandemics which equally need to be addressed and called for an integrated and inclusive response that addresses all the on-going initiatives on HIV and AIDS, malaria, Tuberculosis treatment and access to essential sexual and reproductive health services.

“A relapse and failure to address these may lead to a rise in HIV and AIDs cases, maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality increased incidences of malaria, sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies and complication in childbirth,” he said.

The Minister for the Presidency Esther Mbayo said that Uganda has made progress in responding to the burden of HIV over the last four decades reducing the prevalence rates from about 18 percent in the 1990’s to the six percent today. She says that the reduction in the prevalence has positioned Uganda on track to achieve the ambitious goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Mbayo noted that addressing the HIV and AIDS burden calls for engaging all stakeholders, high-level political commitment and action and enhanced community mobilization for social and behaviour change. She added that even when the country’s efforts are currently focused on taming the spread of COVID-19, there is need not to relax efforts and commitment towards preventing and ending HIV and AIDs.

She encouraged people living with HIV to utilize their networks within their communities to access the health units for refills of ARVs so as to ensure viral suppression and hence reduced transmission.

Dr Stephen Watiti, the Chairman of the National Forum for People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda advised people living with HIV to endeavour to get refills in time to ensure that their treatment is not disrupted by the current lockdowns. He also requested the government to consider persons living with HIV in its food distribution programme so that they are able to take their medicine with adherence.

Dr Nelson Musoba, the Director General of Uganda AIDS Commission acknowledged that at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, many patients failed to access health centres for medication.

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