By Prisca Wanyenya
A section of lawmakers have attributed the high HIV/AIDs infections to the high cost of condoms, forcing some poor Ugandans to choose between spending money on the purchase of condoms or buying food.
The revelation was made by lawmakers on Parliament’s Committee on HIV/AIDs and other related matters while interfacing with officials from Uganda Aids Commission to update Parliament on the status of HIV/AIDs pandemic and response in Uganda.
Joel Leku (Terego west) wondered why he has never seen the free condoms distributed in his district where condoms are sold at Shs2000, yet some of his electorates live on Shs1000. Leku said: “This money is too much when you are in dire need of that activity, it might find you when you have Shs1000. Imagine we are living on less than Shs1000 a day and then you must buy condoms at Shs2000, so this becomes a choice on whether to buy condoms or not. Usually, the women don’t ask us why we are going skin to skin, but this is why. So we are asking the organization to come to our rescue.”
He was backed by Stephen Kisa (Luuka South) who expressed concern over the reduced use of condoms within Parliament building and encouraged fellow MPs to make use of the free condoms distributed by MPs.
Kisa said: “They are inside our work place here but equally, unlike before, the disappearance of these condoms is at a slow pace. When you go there you find, I don’t know if they are adding more and more each day, but at least it appears the consumption rate has also reduced in relation to this particular organization.”
He also tasked the Aids Commission to explain why the cost of condoms is very high and whether this could be attributed to high taxes. “Some condoms come in at a free cost if it isn’t these NGOs that support us, for those members who go to the market, you find that the most serious one is highly at Shs10,000 plus, depending on the vulnerability on the way you are going to use it, is it taxed?” asked Kisa.
However, Nelson Musoba, Director General of Uganda Aids Commission informed the Committee that all reproductive health related products are tax free so condoms aren’t taxed, adding that issues around condom use or availability range from behavior and willingness to use condoms.
“You will be surprised that studies were done and a number of people were not favouring the free condoms. When condoms were provided, they preferred to go for branded condoms,” said Musoba.
He added that studies conducted have shown that generally, African men don’t like condoms, “So they need to be talked to because even when manufacturers were asked to set up factories here to manufacture condoms, they said there is low market and use.”
Kisa also called on the Commission to rethink strategies of dealing with sex workers arguing that commercial sex has shifted from urban centers to trading centers including the rural areas.
He explained: “When I was traversing my constituency, you would see very active people, especially now that there is a rural electrification agency, darkness is no longer there, and you would see some people standing there. As you think about strategy of these sex workers, you shouldn’t think about these well-developed urban places, the trading centres have become centers of attraction.”
Musoba informed the Committee that Ministry of Health has changed its strategy of distributing condoms at health centres to now places they anticipate sex would take place.
According to the Commission, by the end of 2020, Uganda had an estimated 1.4million people living with HIV/AIDs, with new infections placed at 38,000 annually.
In a move seen as a blow against HIV war, Parliament last year moved to ban supply of condoms in its precincts. This followed this newspaper reports indicating that legislators and other parliamentary staff use about 10000 condoms monthly.
The Daily Pepper, in its story, quoted Geoffrey Feta (Ayivu East Mp, who claimed to have information that MPs use 10,000 condoms every month wondering what legacy parliament will leave behind to the next generation suggesting that MPs ought to be exemplary. Feta said: “As we speak here, information moving on social media is that Parliament uses 10,000 condoms in a month and to the public, that defines the parliament of Uganda. The country we live in, we have a responsibility of leaving a legacy to the next generation, and it is this parliament that will determine if the generation is upright or the generation isn’t upright.” This was during a debate on continued decline of ethical and moral values in Uganda prompted by former ethics and integrity minister Dr James Nsaba Buturo who now wants the House to endorse that over the years, the country has been built on a moral and ethical foundation that encourages citizens to distinguish between right and wrong.
However, the Mps and Parliament administration did not take the reports lightly saying they injured their reputation as people out there consider the legislators as sex pests.
“We have been seriously injured with the reports. While it is a laughing matter, it is an issue of integrity,” a male Mp who preferred anonymity said.
According to Parliament’s director of communication and public affairs Chris Obore, in the past, Parliament has been getting its condom supplies from an NGO called Global Health Alliance.
Obore clarified that condoms which are distributed at Parliament actually don’t get used by Mps because cleaners remove and resell them.
“They [condoms] are placed in washrooms. Apparently, it’s the cleaners who mainly remove them. Some remove all of them immediately they are delivered. Stories are that they go and sell them. But the stories now insinuate that it’s MPs who consume the condoms,” Obore said stressing that the published reports were “far from the truth”.
As one of the strategies to manage parliament’s reputation, he recommended that the condoms supply stops “to cut off this source of negative stories about MPs”.
“Parliament is neither a hotel nor a lodge where condoms should be supplied. And MPs and staff of parliament are not the most disadvantaged to be given free condoms in case they need. The NGO can take their supplies to where it’s needed most — bars, lodges and or hotels,” said Obore.
Health experts this newspaper talked to however, said the parliament administration should think twice before banning condoms in its premises because the decision may not be welcomed by those on the front line against HIV/AIDS spread.
Condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to HIV pathogens. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), scientific data “overwhelmingly confirm that male latex condoms are highly effective in preventing sexual HIV transmission. However, experts say, many governments around the world either fail to guarantee access to condoms or impose needless restrictions on access to condoms and related HIV/AIDS information. Such restrictions, they say, interfere with public health as well as set back internationally recognized human rights—the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to information, and the right to life.
100 UGANDANS GET INFECTED WITH HIV/AIDS DAILY
Relatedly, UAC also revealed that 100 Ugandans get infected with HIV/AIDs on a daily basis, a trend that has put Uganda’s annual new infections to 72,000.
Nelson Musoba, Director General UAC said that Uganda has achieved a lot, however, some subgroups across geographical, socio-economic and demographic divide have remained very vulnerable, implying there are challenges that need to be addressed.
“The new infections are still unacceptably high considering that this translates to approximately 700 people getting infected per week or 100 per day or 4 people per hour. The majority of these new infections are occurring among young people, with young women accounting for 73% of the new infections due to vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural social, and economic status,” he said.
Musoba told Parliament that by the end of 2020, Uganda had an estimated 1.4million people living with HIV/AIDs. According to the Ministry of Health statistics, between 2010 and 2020, Uganda registered a 61% in AIDs related deaths from 56,000 to 22,000 and a 60% decline in new HIV infections from 94,000 to 38,000.
The Commission also called on Parliament to join efforts to reduce new infection rates, arguing that if the new infection rates are reduced to 72,000 in five years, Uganda would be in position to save Shs57Bn spent on treatment.
“The average cost of maintaining one client on treatment for a year inclusive of procurement, storage and delivering the medicines as well as its administering to a patient cost US$210 equivalent to Shs787,000. By averting 72,000 new infections the country will avoid annual treatment costs approximately Shs57Bn,” said Musoba.
In Uganda, UNAIDS 2020 statistics highlighted that 22,000 people died due to AIDs related illnesses implying that we are still losing over 420 Ugandans to the AIDs scourge each week. Of these, 9000 are males, 4,300 children largely attributed to failure to start treatment early enough and failure to adhere to their medication.