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New interventions to offer women, children better protection

Zam Kabali is a secondary school teacher in Kampala and so was her husband. In 2000, he fell sick and for the next four months, his health was only deteriorating. As he developed a rash all over his body and became sicker, Kabali’s faint knowledge about HIV/AIDS symptoms pushed her to testing.

She was positive but their two children aged five and eight then tested negative. The following year, her husband died

“I opened up to my mother who consoled and urged me to seek assistance from TASO Mulago,” says Kabali. Although it was not an easy road to self acceptance, Kabali was enrolled on ARV’s which have sustained her life to date.

She later joined a group of care providers, families, and people living with HIV/AIDS; National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA) in Kampala through which they visit each other’s homes to comfort women who are discriminated by their families.

“There is life after HIV,” Kabali says. She notes, however, that although Uganda has gone past community stigmatization of People Living with HIV/AIDS, an almost similar problem persists at individual level.

“Infected individuals live in denial instead of trying to cope with the disease,” she says, “that is self-stigmatisation.”

Kabali says she knows the fear and uncertainty associated with realizing one is HIV positive but says Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARTs) and support systems of family and friends can pull one through.

Kabali is one of several women who comprise the biggest cohort of HIV-infected persons in Uganda.

Beyond ABC

Dr. Flavia Matovu Kiweewa, an Epidemiologist and Microbicides Researcher at Makerere University John Horpkins University (MUJHU), says women are hit hard because they are usually not in control of relations financially, culturally, and even practically.

“For instance if a man doesn’t use a condom the woman may not use it,” Matovu says.

Previous HIV/AIDS control programmes in Uganda, including the ABC strategy (Abstinence, Being Faithfull and Condon use), all leave women vulnerable. According to her, female condoms did not become widely used because women are disadvantaged power wise during sexual relations. Men on the other hand have several interventions which they control.

Even as the epidemic has matured in Uganda, and health authorities and stakeholders have adopted additional interventions into combating the spread of HIV, women remain vulnerable. The men now have Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) as a major added intervention.

Results from Uganda Aids Indicator Survey 2011 point to scaling-up safe male circumcision to reach 66% of the uncircumcised males aged 15-49 years to avert almost 121,278 new HIV infections through 2020. On the other hand, scaling up VCT to full coverage (100%) among adults (15-49 years) would result in averting 113,813 new infections through 2020.

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