Officials from the US embassy in Uganda have expressed disappointment at the lukewarm response by men in Uganda to an offer for free HIV testing and treatment that is currently available in the country.
Dr. Donna Kabatesi, the Assistant Director of Programmes at the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) Uganda based in Entebbe, said that there are fewer men seeking to test for HIV which is limiting their access to free antiretroviral treatment currently made available with support from the US government.
According to the Office of Public Affairs of the US mission in Kampala, there were far fewer men who tested for HIV last year compared to women. Information released to The Sunrise shows that as of December 2016, 61% of estimated HIV-positive men in Uganda were diagnosed, and only 54% have started treatment. On the other hand, as many as 90% of HIV positive women have been diagnosed and 79% have started treatment.
In December last year, with support from the US government, Uganda launched the free Test and Treat campaign in which it promised to put all those that test positive to HIV on antiretroviral treatment.
The campaign is seen as a vital step in stemming the spread of the disease using treatment as a preventive tool. Experts in HIV/AIDS management say that when an HIV positive person is on ARV treatment, he/she reduces chances of spreading the disease to another person by up to 95%.
Early treatment has been proven to lower the risk of HIV transmission, helping to limit new infections. In Uganda, the Ministry of Health projects that the new Test and Treat push will prevent 716,000 new HIV infections, avert 98,000 AIDS-related deaths, and decrease the total number of people living with HIV by 628,000 by 2030.
The ambition is also in line with the UNAIDS ’90-90-90 targets’, whereby 2020: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
So far the US mission says that at least 50 percent of all Ugandans who have tested positive to HIV Aids in recent months have been able to start treatment on the same day of testing thanks to the availability of drugs procured through funding from the US government.
This week, the US embassy held a news conference during which it released a new publication titled: Report to the Ugandan People, that showcases some of the successes of America’s assistance programmes in Uganda including availing ARV treatment to up to 94% of all Ugandans on ARVs.
US Ambassador Deborah Malac (Pictured above) said that with more than US$488 million support to the health sector during the last financial year 2016 alone, the US government remains Uganda’s biggest supporter of the health sector. The report shows that besides support to health, the American government supported other sectors such as education, jobs creation and entrepreneurship, agriculture, and good governance which all amounted to US$840m (Approximately Ushs2.9 trillion) in 2016.
While the growing level of American support to improve the health of Uganda’s may be a welcome gesture, many observers see it as a major failure on the part of the government to rely on foreigners for the lives of its people.
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze told The Sunrise that as the Opposition in Parliament, they have raised the matter of underfunding of the Health sector as a danger to the country.
She said: “We as the opposition already raised this matter and condemned officials in the ministry of health for putting most of the programmes in the hands of foreigners. It is very bad for our country not only in the management of HIV and AIDS but also for the control of other small things like Malaria. It is very sad to say that the country doesn’t prioritise the health of its people.”
Nambooze however says that as the opposition, the best they can do is lament because decisions are taken in the ruling NRM caucus that has an overwhelming majority.
Ambassador Malac also expressed concern at the government’s failure to increase funding towards a sector she described as a growth sector that must be allocated more resources on account of growing demand that arises from a growing population and the need to increase all parameters of service delivery in the sector such as health workers, supplies, and infrastructure.
In the new budget, the health sector has been allocated Ushs1.8 trillion, which is unchanged from what it received in the outgoing year.
The US government says that the bulk of its support is channeled through NGOs and not the central government because of corruption.