Uganda: Mayors Back Circumcision Campaign to Prevent HIV

In the wake of the latest statistics, which are startling and in stark contrast with perceptions that Uganda is doing well in the fight against HIV/AIDS, mayors have joined the campaign to contain the pandemic’s spiraling new infections.

According to figures from numerous studies conducted last year, 129,000 people (including 24,000 babies) contracted the deadly virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Previous surveys done in 2007 and 2010 had new infections at 115,000 and 120,000 respectively. An estimated 1.2 million Ugandans live positively and the pandemic kills 64,000 people annually.

The latest figures on new infections translate to at least 350 people contracting HIV every day in the country. Based on the increasing rate of new infections, experts are worried that the numbers could triple in the next five years if prevention measures are not stepped up.

It is against this background that, on April 30, Dr Joshua Musinguzi, acting manager of the AIDS Control Programme/STD in the ministry of Health, called for renewed support from local leaders in urban areas to back ongoing prevention campaigns.

Through the Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders on HIV/AIDS (AMMICAALL), mayors and other local government leaders from eight districts: Kampala, Mukono, Kabale, Rakai, Arua, Kasese, Gulu and Mayuge, reaffirmed their commitment on Monday. In what Dr Musinguzi says is a pilot project, mayors and other leaders in the aforesaid districts help the ministry of Health in mobilising communities to embrace the new ‘comprehensive’ anti-HIV/AIDS campaign.

Musinguzi said the ministry of Health is set to roll out a ‘comprehensive’ preventive campaign that will concentrate on promoting safe male circumcision (SMC) and elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV. According to scientific research, also approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), circumcision provides up to 60 percent protection against HIV. And, in countries like Botswana, South Africa and Kenya where EMTCT has been fully embraced, the number of HIV positive newborns declined to as low as four percent.

Negative perceptions on male circumcision, based on religion and culture, remain deeply rooted in most Ugandan communities. But Musinguzi explained that the role of mayors and other district leaders brought onboard could come in handy to promote the practice’s advantages in preventing HIV/AIDS.

Initially, Musinguzi disclosed, the circumcision campaign targets 3.8 million men (aged between 15 and 49) who are sexually active. On EMTCT, he said the ministry has decided to extend the services to health centre III facilities, which are some of the lowest community health units.

Under the new preventive strategy, officials hope they will reduce the rate of new HIV infections by 40 percent in 2015. Musa Bungudu, the UNAIDS country coordinator, noted that despite being internationally praised for being at the forefront of successful HIV/AIDS medicine trials, Uganda lags behind when it comes to implementation.

“Uganda just needs to go into action; it has a lot of information,” Bungudu said during the AMMICAALL review workshop at Hotel Africana, April 30.

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