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Civil society unhappy with President Museveni’s World AIDS Day remarks

By Agnes E. Nantaba

Civil Society activists against HIV/AIDS have demanded an apology from President Yoweri Museveni over some of the remarks he made during the commemoration of World AIDS Day in Fort Portal on Dec.1.

Museveni is reported to have said, “Having HIV/AIDS is a shame and disgrace to society.”

Appearing as Chief Guest at Boma Grounds in Fort Portal, the president rubbished the role of condoms and safe male circumcision as effective strategies to fight the scourge.

“Unless the youth lock their private parts until they are ready to get married, the country will continue receiving new HIV infections,” Museveni said, adding that it is a tragedy for people to invite HIV/AIDS and get infected when the disease is preventable unlike malaria and cough.

While addressing the press at the Uganda Cares Offices in Kampala, Alice Kayongo, the regional policy and advocacy manager at AIDS Health Care Foundation noted that the president’s remarks were in bad taste and maligned their struggle towards alleviating the scourge in the country.

Museveni also lambasted the Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) programme as a strategy that reduces the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS.

“I curse the strategy of circumcision as a way of fighting HIV. The Bakonzo and Bagisu circumcise but die. This is a misleading message. The only strategy that works is the prevention of mother to child transmission that is clear to the fight of the scourge”.

However, Kayongo said the president’s remarks were unsubstantiated and intended to raise stigma and discrimination among positive people and scare people from testing and disclosing their status publicly.

“Science has proven that SMC reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS by 60% in men which also reduces the chances in women with circumcised partners. It has been proven that condoms reduce the risk by at least 99% which strategies have worked hard to reduce new infections,” explained Kayongo.

Activists questioned the basis of the president’s remarks since their strategies are science-based and claim that they have worked to fight the scourge in the country and promote positive living.

“We therefore demand an immediate apology from the president or he should withdraw his remarks that have already taken a toll on the victims and the community in which they stay.

According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, there were 137,000 new infections last year as compared to 160,000 new infections during 2012, translating into a rate of 380 people being infected daily.

Joshua Wamboga, the executive director of Uganda Alliance of Patients Organizations (UAPO) said since they are working towards zero deaths, infections and stigma, the president together with policy makers should be in support of their efforts instead of rubbishing them.

“The government and partners should invest more in the fight of the disease, ensure free testing and counseling for all people, support Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS  (PMTCT) and those living positive life enroll them on ARVs if we are to fight the virus to zero infection,” said Wamboga.

Sarah Namyalo, a young woman living positively with HIV also expressed concern over the president’s remarks claiming that their efforts aimed at encouraging her colleagues to live positively had been rendered worthless.

“It is so unfortunate that the president who has so many followers made such remarks that discriminate us and makes us lose hope in life,” Namyalo said.

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