KAMPALA, Sept 8 (AFP) - Talking openly about AIDS in Uganda,
where the disease has claimed half a million lives, has helped
to cut the rate of HIV infection by half over the last six
years, according to the professor heading a national programme.
Before the launch of a huge public awareness campaign six years
ago, AIDS and HIV were taboo subjects, not discussed in public,
and covered up when known to be the cause of a relative's
Now the disease is frequently raised by politicians, and talked
about in schools, the workplace and in the home.
According to John Rwomushana, Director General of the Uganda
Aids Commission (UAC), a campaign to bring HIV/AIDS into the
open has paid off, with infection rates in the most affected
areas and among the most sexually active age groups showing
"This trend can be attributed to public awareness campaigns,
free family talk and discussions of the problem and a concerted
effort to prevent further infections," Rwomushana told AFP.
"Generally, the rate has been reduced by about 50 percent. The
infection rate in the most affected areas like Kampala has been
reduced from 30 to 12 percent (of the population), while the
general prevalence is reduced from 10 to 7 percent," he said.
These days, some 90 percent of Ugandans "know quite well all
the ways the disease is transmitted."
The campaign features roadside billboards advising "If you
can't abstain, use a condom," as well as seminars and
Ugandans are encouraged to test for HIV infection. The process
is free, quick and accompanied by counselling.
HIV/AIDS nevertheless remains a considerable health problem in
Uganda, where at least 1.5 million people, 7.5 percent of the
population, are estimated to be HIV-positive.
Rwomushana realises there is much work to be done.
"We are looking at a strategic planning in a more comprehensive
manner that has not yet been done before which will include
intensified research and more community outreach programmes,"
Aids campaigners such as Rwomushana have found adversaries in
religious quarters. The Roman Catholic church in particular is
opposed to encouraging the use of condoms, claiming this
Ugandans use some 80 million condoms annually. The government
plans to import 10 million to meet demand.
Children are among the worst-affected sector of society. A
million children are thought to have been orphaned by AIDS and
many have become family heads at a very young age.
In some communities only the children and elderly remain.
"They can no longer manage the strenuous peasantry farming.
Weeds in some shambas have overgrown because there is nobody to
attend to these plantations," social worker Florence Kiwanuka
Ninety percent of Uganda's economy derives from small-scale
agriculture. "The impact of the disease on the economy is
potentially devastating," according to Rwomushana.
Better news has emerged at the laboratory level, with
breakthroughs being made in halving the transmission of HIV
from expectant mothers to their children. "The implications of
this study for developing countries where 95 per cent of the
AIDS epidemic is occurring are profound," said Brooks Jackson
of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, one of several
US experts working on the joint project.
The treatment under development costs a fraction of drugs such
as AZT, and it is projected to protect some 300,000 new borns
Encouraging results have also been seen in an experimental
vaccine, Canary pox Alvac, being simultaneously tested here and
in Brazil and Thailand.