HIV has featured highly in the local and national news in Uganda this week. This comes as the Ministry of Health announced that the HIV infection rate in the country has risen to 6.7%. This equates to approximately 2.3 million people, a number that has risen by almost a million since 2005. You can read two of these articles here and here.
As it was so relevant this week, S.A.L.V.E took this opportunity to teach a very interesting lesson for the children at the Drop-in Centre, surrounding the causes and effects of HIV along with how to prevent it.
What is HIV?
HIV is a pandemic causing millions of people to fall ill- the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and it is different from most other viruses because it attacks the immune system that enables our bodies to fight infections. It is infectious and transmission mainly occurs via sex, untreated blood, from an HIV-positive mother to a child if treatment is not used, and through intravenous drug and needle sharing. HIV can lead to a condition called AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) which occurs when the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has difficulty fighting opportunistic infections it would usually be able to prevent.
According to studies, HIV is higher among women and the uneducated. Findings from the Ministry of Health this week stated that 7.7% of women and 5.6% of men are HIV positive, with higher prevalence rates in urban populations, such as Jinja. In fact, one of S.A.L.V.E’s community education projects in Kakira supports a number of women, through direct employment, who are HIV-positive.
What was also worrying is that comprehensive knowledge about prevention and transmission of HIV was very low at 34% for women and 41% for men. This means that messages about the disease either do not reach the people they need to or they are misinterpreted.
HIV Testing Event
An event this week in the Kamuli district, approximately 70Km from Jinja, tested 129 people for HIV. Of this number, we were happy to learn that only 3 people were positive! The event is a bi-annual occurrence and was hosted by Arise and Shine, which is a partner organisation of S.A.L.V.E, and TASO (The Aids Support Organisation). The ‘rapid test’ is quick, painless and unobtrusive: it consists of a pin prick on the finger followed by a dab of blood on paper and the results are ready within 30 minutes. Keeping in line with the view that education is one of the best forms of prevention, the event included a play that dramatized living with HIV and a series of speeches from people living with HIV.
HIV Drug Improves Anti-Malarial Drug Effectiveness?
Another study in Uganda, of which the findings were released this week, suggested that an antiretroviral drug commonly given to HIV-infected children in Sub-Saharan Africa improves the effectiveness of a key malaria drug. Over the course of the two-year trial, children who received a cocktail of drugs containing the antiretrovirals had a 41 per cent drop in malaria cases compared with children who did not. This is potentially groundbreaking news and could have positive implications for the future of malaria prevention and treatment, both in Uganda and worldwide.