H.E President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in 2016 launched the Presidential Fast-Track Initiative on AIDS aimed at ending AIDS in Uganda by 2030, which was the first of its kind globally.
The fight to end AIDS in Uganda however did not start in 2016 but rather in the 1980s.
Tracing the roots of AIDS, in 1983, experts from the Ministry of Health investigated a new disease which they coined “Slim” because its victims were rapidly losing weight. Further research later concluded that it was HIV/AIDS.
Studies found that, AIDS prevalence was as high as 29 per cent in the 1980s with a population of 12.5 million people. About 3.6 million people were infected country wide.
With the situation looking this bad, the government and other concerned parties came together to propose a number of interventions like the ABC policy which stood for Abstinence, Be faithful and use of Condoms as a last resort. The policy was focused on the prevention of AIDS in Uganda. It was incorporated into school curriculum, religious sermons, and village meetings at the grass roots, radio and television broadcasts to ensure that the message reached all Ugandans.
Government interventions in the 1980s and 1990s focused on the prevention of AIDS and to an extent neglected those that were already infected. It is because of this that, efforts were later geared towards access of drugs, counseling, testing among others over and above the drive for prevention of AIDS.
Today, AIDS victims can acquire free ARVs from the nearest health center across Uganda. These interventions have paid off.
84% of the 44.5 million Ugandans are aware of their HIV status, 87 per cent of those infected are on treatment. For more perspective, about 1.2 million of the 1.4million infected Ugandans are on treatment.
It is imperative to note that, women in Uganda are taking lead in combating AIDS and these include:
In 1987, just after her husband had died, she joined hands with a few colleagues to start The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) which was started as a support group to help people who had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
TASO has since evolved into a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) which now has eleven service centers and four service regional offices. Kaleeba has over the years proven through her work to be a passionate fighter for AIDS, as she currently works for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) as the Programme Development Adviser.
Janet Kainembabazi Kataha
Being an Orphan, Janet was motivated to start up the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) with other mothers in 1986 after the stark reality of what Uganda had become hit them. Children in areas of “the Luwero triangle” lost their parents to the liberation war but many of the orphans were due to HIV/AIDS. By 2010, 45 per cent of orphans were due to HIV/AIDS. Together, they managed to give orphans homes, support through school and vocational skills for income generation.
In 2015, she championed the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV & AIDS (EMTCT) campaign. The initiative has a focus on raising a generation free of AIDS especially from infected mother but it requires the cooperation of men in the use of family planning methods like condoms. She was motivated to launched this campaign in western Uganda where the Mother to Child Transmission prevalence is at 8 per cent compared to a national AIDs prevalence of 7.3 per cent.
1991. The year she tested HIV positive just after the death of her husband. Beatrice Were clothed herself with resilience. Three years after testing positive, She co-founded an NGO called National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda (NACWOLA) aimed at offering support to women to end stigma, denial, fear etc. NACWOLA serves over 40,000 women in 20 districts across the country.
She has since worked with the International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS Uganda as Executive Coordinator. She is now serving at Action Aid Uganda as the National Coordinator. Beatrice Were has been put on record for attacking USA’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which focuses on abstinence only and causes stigma among those who can’t abstain, thus worsening and endangering lives.
Winnie Byanyima who was recently appointed as the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Milly Katana who founded the Pan African Treatment Movement, a member of the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa, which was established last year by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Angelina Wapakhabulo, Program Coordinator of the Market Vendors AIDS Project (MAVAP) and many more women have dedicated their lives to fighting the AIDS scourge in their own respects.
The Presidential Fast-Track Initiative on ending AIDS in Uganda by 2030 isn’t a walk Uganda can take without involving women and acknowledging the multi-dimensional role we play in achieving this goal. As we celebrate World AIDS day on 1st December 2019, I call upon all women to join hands and end AIDS by 2030.
The Writer is a Communication Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.