Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The Observer
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Human Rights

Sergeant Eunice Kisembo discovered she was HIV positive in 2001 after her release from Luzira Prison.
Kisembo says during a three-and-half-year term imprisonment on allegations of aiding LRA rebels, prison warders commanded her to walk naked and one raped her.

"I was traumatised at the fact that I had the virus and refused to take drugs for one year thinking that I was going to die any time soon", Kisembo, a mother of two said.

But this was at a time when the AIDS scourge was at its highest; so, government bodies and the private sector responded fast. The army started availing ARVS and counselling, earning Kisembo a new lease to life.

Today, Kisembo performs her duties well and she was among the officers who benefited from the UPDF health day held late last year. On this day, the Special Forces Group (SFG), a wing of the UPDF, was involved in HIV testing and counselling sessions hoping to curb the rising HIV prevalence.

"We have lost commanders, spouses and children to AIDS and, therefore, we have established over 30 testing centres and next year, we are launching the UPDF strategy for AIDS control", Maj Casetti Wamundu, director HIV/AIDS services in the UPDF, said.

The strategy is to avail avenues through which members could access such services as safe male circumcision and ARVs. Wamundu advised the army leaders, especially those at lower ranks, against complacency, saying they should openly address the problem.

The current HIV prevalence rate in Uganda is estimated at 6.5% among adults and 0.7% among children. Women are disproportionately affected, accounting for 57% of all adults living with HIV. This is because women tend to become sexually active at a younger age compared to men.

"The HIV testing acceptance rate among PMTCT (Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission) clients was 70% to 75%, implying that about 25% of the children born in UPDF health facilities may be unknowingly exposed to HIV infection without any intervention", Dr James Makumbi, UPDF's chief of Medical Services, said.

Further, the proportion of HIV positive mothers who receive niverapine during labour, is disappointingly small, and it is worse for babies. Makumbi also says there is minimal male involvement in accessing PMTCT services in military communities, exposing them to opportunistic diseases.

TB is the commonest opportunistic infection among HIV patients and up to 1,900 HIV positive patients in the UPDF access cotrimoxazole on regular basis. The number of clients receiving antiretroviral drugs from the facilities is over 1,000 per month.

However, Makumbi said the challenge is to follow up those who default on treatment. It has been suggested that ARVs and condoms have changed the perception of AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable, manageable disease.

"I was disappointed when people, especially the youth, became promiscuous because condoms were available instead of keeping the abstinence oath that was taken when people were first threatened", Janet Museveni, the chief guest at the function held at UPDF marine headquarters Entebbe, said.

"UPDF has no choice but take infections back to zero". The UPDF HIV/AIDS prevention programme, started in 1988, is mandated to provide and regulate implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention and care services among the military.

It does this in collaboration with other key stakeholders like the ministry of Health, Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), AIDS Information Centre (AlC), the AIDS Support Organization (TASO), and many others.