UNAIDS boss applauds Ugandan leadership on HIV fight

The Executive Director UNAIDS Mr Musa Bundugu, has applauded the political, religious and civil leadership in Uganda for working in chorus to rout the HIV/AIDS scourge.

UNAIDS Mr Musa Bundugu
UNAIDS Mr Musa Bundugu

Musa says the local leadership led by the First Lady, Janet Museveni and President Museveni had exhibited a new level of commitment to jettison the disease since 2010 when it emerged that the country was backtracking on the achievements it had scored against the disease.

After celebrating decades of world-acclaimed success against the pitiless virus, Uganda was awakened by new information which showed that HIV prevalence had shot up from 5% in 2002 to about 7.3% in 2010.

Musa noted that a conference was consequently convened in April 2010 to reengage the political, cultural, religious, civil society, donor, media and United Nations actors towards rolling back the disease.

The country, at the same time launched a re-energised response guided by a fresh HIV Strategic Plan (2011-2015).

This was also coupled with an aggressive HIV Prevention Strategy (2011-2015) which was hinged on a shared universal vision of a future of zero HIV-related deaths, zero new infections, and zero stigma and discrimination of the infected and affected.

“The leaders have shown a remarkable level of commitment, and the implementation of these strategies has begun to yield positive results.” Musa said.

Uganda's First Lady, Janet Kataaha Museveni, is counselled before taking an HIV test in public.
Uganda’s First Lady, Janet Kataaha Museveni, is counselled before taking an HIV test in public.

He particularly commended The First Lady for championing the elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (eMTCT) of HIV, where the number of new babies born with HIV dropped to about 9,600 by close of last year from 30,000 in 2011.

Musa revealed that projections indicate that this figure is expected to drop further to about 5,000 babies by end of this year.

He commended the exceptional contribution by key stakeholders including the international community, US Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Global Fund, UN agencies, Irish Aid, Ministry of Health and Uganda AIDS Commission among others.

The results have been magical at some health units. At Reach Out Mbuya health centre, they haven’t registered a single case of a baby being born with HIV for the last 4years.

This, thanks to the sustained expansion of the national eMTCT programme, which had resulted into about 95% (112,909 mothers) of pregnant HIV positive mothers accessing Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Musa also revealed that the country scaled up the enrolment of people on ART from 570,000 in 2013 to 750,000 in 2014, which can contribute to reducing infections.

Musa, however re-echoed the need to do more to improve on the key indicators.

“There is great need to commit more funds to the response programmes, for example, to provide treatment to the 60-67% infected children who are not on treatment,” he said.

Only about 38% of children are on treatment.

He further stressed the need to prioritize HIV & AIDS in children and adolescents, with the ultimate aim of keeping them safe.

Musa, who has served at the UN programme on HIV/AIDS in Uganda for 5 years, called for the aggressive promotion of testing and placement of all positive persons onto treatment.

President Museveni taking an HIV test in public to create awareness.
President Museveni taking an HIV test in public to create awareness.

He said Uganda needs to pay attention to the estimated 600,000 infected persons who are not yet on treatment. Critical to note is that this figure represents people who are not yet on treatment because they don’t know their status.

“If they knew, probably more effort would have been made to put them on treatment.” Musa said, adding: “If we are to put majority of those on treatment, Uganda will not wait until 2030 to end AIDS,”

He also emphasised that more attention needs to be paid to urban areas, key populations and adolescents.

He called for the scaling up of safe male circumcision saying it doesn’t only help in the fight against AIDS but also carries a benefit in fighting cervical cancer.

Other strategies he suggested included the continued advocacy for the ABCD strategy and the fight against stigma. He cautioned that these response programmes would require additional resources.

“The President has previously said that he has money and most it has been prioritised for infrastructure projects but HIV is another critical matter we need to invest in.” Musa said.

With ongoing trend of issues affecting countries that fall under the donor category, Musa advised that it would suffice for Uganda to establish an AIDS Trust Fund to safe guard against donor fatique.

“If we put those infected on treatment, it reduces the chances of the virus remaining strong to enough to infect another person. It’s actually an investment.  So, you either put them on treatment today and score, or let the infections continue.” He noted.