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Agence France-Presse
HIV/AIDS threatens to wipe out Ugandan fishing communities: survey
Vincent Mayanja
July 19, 2005
KAMPALA, July 19 (AFP) - HIV/AIDS is threatening to wipe out entire fishing communities living around lakes in Uganda where infection rates are as high as 80 percent and could affect food security in the east African nation, an official survey said Tuesday.

In addition to the disastrous human toll, the disease could wreak economic havoc by devastating Uganda's fisheries sector which represents 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product and nearly 20 percent of its total exports, it said.

"Chronic illness and death destroys livelihood and incomes, undermines the skills base in the fishing workforce, and reduces productivity," said the survey which was conducted by the agriculture ministry in conjunction with the national HIV/AIDS commission.

"This is a threat to sustainable fisheries, poverty elimination and economic growth," it said, noting that the industry directly employs about 700,000 people and supports some 1.2 million households.

"A sick fishing labour force will negate sustainable fishing," it said.

Dick Nyeko, Uganda's fisheries commissioner, said the impact could then be felt by the country at large, where 17 million people depend on fish products for food.

"HIV and AIDS have the potential to reduce the availability of fish as people become weak to fish and fishing skills are lost," he told AFP.

The survey, which was carried out last year in 21 Ugandan fishing communities on Lake Victoria, Lake George, Lake Edwards, Lake Albert and along the Nile river, found an HIV infection rates to be three times higher than the national average of seven percent.

On Lake Albert, which straddles the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the infection rate was 24 percent compared to only four percent in nearby land-based agricultural communities.

In Kisenyi on Lake George, the rate was a startling 81 percent, according to the survey.

John Rwomushana, an official with the Uganda AIDS Commission, said the figures were alarming, especially because residents in such remote areas often have no access to health care.

"They lack access to safe water, latrines and health care making them vulnerable to illness," he said.

Uganda is often cited as an African example of success in the war against AIDS, after slashing the rate of prevalence from 30 percent in 1990s to the current seven percent.

Up to a million of its nationals have died of the disease while a similar figure carries the virus that causes the AIDS disease.