US Government Earmarks $ 35 Million for HIV Management in Acholi as Infection Rate Doubles

GULU – The United States government has earmarked $35 million about Shs 123.3 billion for the management of the Human Immune Virus [HIV] in the Acholi Sub Region as the rate of the infections have reportedly doubled.

The five-year project is being undertaken by the United States Agency for International Development [USAID] aiming at a global agenda of HIV free generation.

The Project Program Director [USAID], Local Partner Health Services, Dr Anna Lawino disclosed in an interview with theCooperator that the fund is established to respond to the resurgence of the virus.

She explained that the areas prioritised in the project are to increase awareness, treatment, and adherence to drugs, viral load suppression and institutional capacity building in the region.

The project which is due for implementation in the next three weeks is to improve access to integrated HIV care and management in Acholi Sub Region and other co-infections.

Whereas The Aids Support Organisation [TASO] Gulu Care Centre is to provide treatment and care, the different health facilities in the region are to increase the rapid testing and referrals.

“The World is looking at increasing awareness by 90%, those infected at 90% to remain on treatment and 90% of the viral load to be suppressed” Lawino further explained.

The support comes at the time the region is experiencing a higher number of infections with the new phenomenon of the Covid19 pandemic.

The infection has reportedly moved up from 8.4% in Gulu district in 2019 to 14% currently in the last one year according to the report by Gulu District Health Department.

However, only 18,000 of the 27,000 people living with the infections in the district have remained on drugs as families struggle to find food to enhance the adherence to treatment.

William Onyai, the Gulu District Health Educator says the district has yet failed to establish the reason why many of the people are abandoning treatment.

Michael Ochwoo, the Centre Manager TASO Gulu, revealed that the Organisation has established 87 drug delivery points in the rural areas within Acholi Sub Region.

“We realised that many of the people are missing on their appointments just because they can’t afford transport to the main centre and this is to help them stay on treatment “Ochwoo added.

Gladys Aol, a 23-year-old graduate of Public Administration at Gulu University and the current Miss Uganda of Young People Living HIV blames that incident on stigma and discrimination.

Aol explained that stigma and social exclusion is not only affecting HIV interventions in the Country but young people have often been denied job opportunities because of their status.

Gloria Anena, another teenager living positively with HIV and a single mother says she dropped out of school in Senior 3 when the Senior Woman Teacher discussed her status with her classmates.

Lambert Lameck Akena, the Councillor Representing Workers in Gulu City who doubles as the Deputy Speaker has described discrimination at the works place as human rights abuse.

“We need to respect the labour law and it’s an offence to deprive people of jobs because of their status and this is one area where we will focus our attention on as Council,” Akena told theCooperator.

He appealed to development partners in the region to step up sensitisation in rural areas where health services are limited to the young people on sexual reproductive health.

The In-charge Patiko Health Centre III, Denis Komakech says the implementation of the five-year project on HIV management should focus mainly on adolescents.

“I have served in the health care sector for the last 18 years and I keep seeing the same problem, same program and the good program like this ends up in papers” Komakech explained.

His Counterpart from Awach Health Centre IV, Patrick Okolong, has called for the strengthening of health education to bridge the knowledge gaps.

He further explained that the Covid19 has affected diagnosis of HIV, a situation he blamed for the upsurge of the infections in the region.

“We have moved back to the early years of the infections and we still can’t establish how many people are infected now and we must integrate it into Covid19 management” Okolong added.

While the Country concentrated its resources on Covid19 management, many of the people living with HIV experienced severe outcomes of the pandemic that increased their vulnerabilities.

At least 1.5 million people are living with the virus in the country according to the recent report by the Ministry of Health [MoH].

Meanwhile, the UNAIDS report 2020 has put the global HIV cases to 37.7 million with about 2 million new cases projected in the year during the first wave of Covid19 infections.

However, only 27.5 million people were enrolled on treatment as the report indicates with 55% of the people were women while children aged between 0-14 accounts for 2.2 million cases.

The disease has also killed 1 million people globally with Sub Saharan Africa representing 67% with about 25,000 deaths occurring in Uganda though the morbidity has reportedly declined by 64%.

As the Countries responded with various measures to contain the new health threat of Covid19, the report by the global fund shows a decline of HIV testing and treatment in Africa and Asia by 41 percent.

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With data collected in the 502 Health Facilities in Africa and 32 from Asian Countries, experts have expressed fear of higher risks of infections in key populations which are projected between 25 and 43 times higher than in the general population with adverse effects of Covid19 on access to health care.

The phenomenon has put a stake on the global agenda of HIV elimination and free generation by 2025 with most of the developing countries including Uganda are resource constraints to provide adequate health care services without foreign aid.

Stephen Odong Latek, the Gulu District Resident Commissioner [RDC] has called for transparency and accountability on the foreign donation in supporting the Health Care Sector in Acholi Sub Region.

“The 25 years of the armed insurgency has its own history but now we are battling the new war of many health complications and we must prioritize accountability for every single fund” Latek warned.

UNAIDS has invested $21.5 US billion as a five-year foreign aid for HIV and AIDS responses in low- and middle-income countries to get on track on free HIV generation by 2025.

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