The Uganda AIDS Commission and medical experts are annoyed over a campaign which openly advises cheating spouses to use condoms. Carol Natukunda and Priscilla Butera bring you the story
A series of controversial billboards across the country recently caused an uproar among the public. The adverts openly advised cheating spouses to use condoms. The campaign is by an American organisation, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Billboards had been put up on some streets, with an image of a heart, crushed and broken into two. They read: "Cheating? Use a condom. Cheated on? Get tested."
The organisation's regional director of advocacy, Maria Nakawuka, says with the rising infection rates in Uganda, it was time to face the stark reality.
"What we are putting across is that if you must cheat, remember to use a condom in order to protect your partner," she said in a recent article on the organisation's website.
"Those who cheat must use condoms correctly and consistently. Those who feel cheated (on) must take an HIV test. If we do not do that, we shall not be able to reduce HIV infections in Uganda," says Nakawuka, stressing that there is need to face the truth if we are to deal with HIV.
The billboards have since been replaced with a more palatable message that reads: "Don't get HIV, don't pass it on". Efforts by Sunday Vision to reach Nakawuka for a fresh comment were futile.
However, the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) argues that the adverts were creating controversy and has vowed to ban them.
"I do not support that kind of messaging; it has not yet been approved by us. We have the mandate to approve every AIDS message that goes out," UAC chairperson Prof. Vinand Nantulya says.
He says they have set up a committee to investigate and study all the AIDS messages before they are publicised. The committee will be launched in two weeks' time.
"They are going to have terms and references. And all such adverts which have not been approved will be withdrawn," Nantulya says.
He adds that the Government still fronts the ABC approach - Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom use. The strategy was largely credited with reducing HIV prevalence from 18% in the early 1990s to about 6% in 2000. However, since then, prevalence has risen, going from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3% in 2011, according to the AIDS Indicator Survey.
The rise in the prevalence rates has basically been attributed to people knowing that they can live longer with the availability of ARVs. Condoms have also been found to make people complacent.
"There is a perception that as long as you use a condom, it does not matter who you have sex with. Moreover, many of these people are not consistent with condom use," Nantulya says.
According to the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator survey, the practice of multiple sexual partners, which was found to be a key driver of Uganda's HIV epidemic, remains high at 25% among men and 4% among women. And the majority of these are married couples.
Nantulya says condoms should not be emphasised over other remedies such as abstinence and faithfulness, especially in an era where people are hesitant to test for HIV.
"Take an HIV test so that you get to know your status, avoid sex relations with people whose HIV status you do not know. Ensure that if tempted outside this safe zone, you use a condom. But remember that condom use is not fool proof," Nantulya says.
What the public thinks
The 'cheating' billboard has caused a lot of debate on social media. While some argue that the advert is tantamount to adultery, others have a liberal view, arguing that we are only burying our heads in the sand.
"The fact of the matter is that people will have sex outside their marriages, whether we want to hear of it or not!" says Anita Nsibirwa, a social worker.
But some parents say they find it a little too embarrassing for their children.
"It is like we are saying it is okay to cheat when you are married," they say.
In Kenya, a controversial "cheating advert" has been completely banned, following uproar from religious leaders, who said it was promoting immorality.
The advert, which targeted married couples, showed a woman boasting to her friends about having a lover on the side to keep her company while her husband wasted his time drinking away. Instead of asking her to stay faithful to her husband, her friend advises her to use a condom with her lover.
Dr. Stephen Watiti, a senior doctor at MildMay, says condom use may possibly help to reduce infections among married couples, but only if it is done correctly and consistently.
"It is wrong for married or cohabiting couples to assume that their partner is not infected with HIV/AIDS. If you have not tested together with your partner, it is unwise to be sexually engaged. You may be faithful, but still contract the virus; people must be open with their partners, so as to avoid infection or re-infection, for discordant couples," Watiti says.
Watiti stresses that condom use is not 100% foolproof (and neither is any other method), but it is better than not using them at all.
"For married or cohabiting couples, combination prevention is much safer," he says. This includes circumcision, which reduces the risk of infection by 72%, condom use, which reduces the risk by 90%, and for discordant couples, the use of ARVs, which reduces the risk of infection and re-infection by 96%. However, faithfulness among partners and periodic tests are the best way to curb infection.