By Ambassador Scott DeLisi
Every year, we know that HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis continue to be the leading causes of death and disability in Uganda.
Nearly 1.5 million Ugandans are living with HIV, and each year over 64,000 Ugandans die from AIDS-related causes. Malaria in Uganda kills one person about every eight minutes – causing almost 20 percent of all deaths among children under five years old. One in six Ugandans suffers from tuberculosis, causing 27,000 deaths per year. And every day, an average of 16 Ugandan women die in childbirth.
Uganda doesn’t have to be this way. No one needs to die of a disease that is preventable or treatable and we invest over 1 trillion shillings each year to try to ensure that this does not happen. Disappointingly, however, it has recently become fashionable in Uganda to dismiss our partnership and assistance as ineffective and meaningless. That is a narrative I cannot accept and I would wager that hundreds of thousands of Ugandans benefiting from our programs would reject it as well. The half million Ugandans who are alive because we pay for their anti-retroviral drugs would certainly disagree. So would the 88,000 HIV-positive women who will have the chance to give birth to HIV-negative children thanks to support from the American people. And the 21 million insecticide-treated bed nets we purchased and distributed with the help of the Global Fund and the United Kingdom mean that over 50,000 children under the age of five won’t die in the next two years from malaria. For them our partnership isn’t “cam-cam;” it
Our trillion shillings a year also help to build a viable health system. From procurement and distribution, to training and support for thousands of Ugandan health workers, we seek to create a strong, efficient, well-functioning system that provides crucial health care and services to all the people of Uganda.
The dollars we spend are real. The impact they have on people’s lives is real. Our long-standing commitment to bring better health to the people of Uganda is also very real. The government is free to accept or reject our partnership. If the government chooses the path of partnership, however, now is also the time for the government to provide stronger leadership, more resources, and a clearer commitment to meet the health needs of the people of Uganda rather than leaving this responsibility to donors.
We know from our past experience that we can make continued progress in the struggle against HIV, in the effort to control malaria, and in our goal of protecting maternal and child health. But we cannot do this without a corresponding commitment from the government to a partnership that is based on mutual respect and thrives on shared commitments to common goals. And we cannot move forward if our dialogue cannot be frank, honest, and open.
As we mark World Health Day I hope that we can find a partnership that brings a better balance to our relationship, a more equitable and realistic sharing of responsibility, and a better future for the people of Uganda. We hope that the government shares the same vision; and I hope that the people of Uganda will know the joy of healthier and richer lives as a result.
The author is the United States Ambassador to Uganda