HIV prevalence rises in Mbarara, says new report

Christopher Nahabwe, the HIV focal person Mbarara district addressing journalists and other stakeholders (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Christopher Nahabwe, the HIV focal person in Mbarara district addressing journalists and other stakeholders (PHOTO/Courtesy)

MBARARA – Uganda population-based HIV Impact Assessment [UPHIA 2020-2021] indicates HIV prevalence in the Mbarara district has increased by 9.6 percent compared to the national average of 5.5 percent.

The report was shared by Christopher Nahabwe, HIV focal person in the Mbarara district during a media café organized by the Health Journalists Network in Uganda [HJNU] at Oxford Hotel.

Out of 178,032 people, 7,000 are reported new cases of people living with HIV in the Mbarara district. Three people were infected out of a thousand in a community, says Nahabwe.

He adds that the southwestern region where Mbarara is a part has 6.3 percent of the population living with HIV compared to the national average of 5.5 percent.

“When we are at 6.3 percent in the southwestern region and national prevalence is at 5.5 percent, it means we have a contribution towards increasing HIV prevalence,” he said.

According to the report, Mbarara district’s HIV prevalence stands at 9.6 percent [male 7.5 percent and female 11.6 percent], Bushenyi is 9.1 percent total population, [male 7 percent, female 11.2 percent], Kiruhura 8.7 percent [male 6.4 percent, and female 11.3 percent], Rukungiri is at 8.1 percent [male 6.1 percent and female 9.9 percent] then Sheema it is at 8.1 percent [males 5.1 percent and females 11.1 percent].

Nahabwe revealed that most HIV transmissions in Mbarara are reported between the ages of 20-49.

“From 10-19 years this is where we have adolescents who are most sexually active [male at 0.3 percent and female at 1.4 percent] where incidence now is beginning to come in with different age stratification. But we have our peak between the age of 20-49 years where youthful young boys and men register a good number of HIV cases [males at 6.1 percent and females at 11.8 percent incidence],” he said.

The major drivers of HIV prevalence in Mbarara include; transactional sex practiced by commercial sex workers in slums, alcohol influence, and being a trans-route city with lots of population among others.

“Those who have been to Mbarara or to Ntungamo Rubare can testify transactional sex taking place for mostly female sex workers to earn a living, we also have multiple partners that result in a network of sex plus inequality in communities where people don’t have equal access to finance, and alcoholism,” Nahabwe said.

Nahabwe said Uganda’s campaign to end new HIV infections by 2030 is hard because of lack of timely funding to tackle new infections.

However, Dr. Medard Arinaitwe, HIV specialist at Mbarara University of Science and Technology [MUST]  said some of the HIV patients that are active on treatment are usually not residents of Mbarara.

“Actually, the people we test in Mbarara might not be residents of the area [Mbarara] as it is rare for female sex workers to spend six months in one area now. Would you shift the HIV index to us just because people have spent a night in Mbarara enjoying their money?”

“I think the mobility of the population is among the social factors, which lead to the escalation of HIV prevalence in towns but that does not mean that people here are reckless,” said Arinaitwe.

“I give people PREP, we give them condoms, we treat them and we have one of the best viral suppression rates in the country, meaning that we have little transmission of HIV,” Arinaitwe said.

He said the current economic hardships have pushed young girls into commercial sex. “Most of the girls leave school at an early age and they have no any other source of income other than becoming…sex workers. The onus is on us to protect these young girls from HIV.”

Nuwagaba Allan Hadaadi, youth community monitors International Community of Women living with HIV Eastern Africa [ICWEA] and an HIV victim, said being HIV positive is not the end of life, thus encouraging people infected with the virus to routinely take their medication to suppress the viral load.

“HIV is just a word. If I didn’t tell you, how many of you would know that I am HIV positive,” he said.

Nuwagaba said he has created several advocacy platforms where he encourages the public to stop stigmatization of those living with HIV/AIDS. “I grew up in a community whereby I was discriminated against by most of my relatives including my biological mother. Now I am stigma-free and I now feel okay because I know my status.”

UPHIA 2020-202 was a national household-based survey among adults [defined as individuals aged 15 years and older] to measure the impact of the national HIV response.

The engagement with journalists and other selected stakeholders was intended to fight HIV/AIDS, and sexual and gender-based violence [SGBV] in the communities.


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