UGANDA: Envoy laments the burden of conflict, AIDS, orphans in the north
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Stephen Lewis, special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
KAMPALA, 2 August (PLUSNEWS) - A United Nations envoy has deplored the plight of the people in northern Uganda, whom he said had continued to suffer greatly from the effects of an ongoing insurgency, high HIV/AIDS infection rates and large numbers of orphans.
"Northern Uganda is truly under siege and there has to be a particular emergency response to AIDS [and] to conflict," Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for AIDS in Africa, said.
"The people are grappling with the conflict on one hand and HIV/AIDS on the other. It is terribly painful [and] quite devastating because Kony [the leader of rebel Lord's Resistance Army] and the LRA have caused incredible destruction," Lewis, who visited northern Ugandan last week, told reporters in the capital, Kampala, on Saturday.
He said he had been "devastated" by what he saw. Half of the children escaping from LRA captivity were infected with the HIV virus, he added.
Uganda's current HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, according to UN figures, was 4.1 percent, but Ugandan health officials put prevalence rates in the war-ravaged north and eastern districts at between 16 to 18 percent.
Lewis said that Uganda had an orphans crisis that needed to be addressed urgently. "We have learnt that Africa can handle treatment, prevention, care, home-based care and support, but what is not being handled well is the question of orphans," he said.
"In Uganda the number of orphans is one of the highest, well over two million, and it is obviously overwhelming the capacity of the country to cope," said Lewis.
"A response to these orphaned children is urgently needed. Wherever, we went, there were problems of school fees or registration fees, school books and uniforms for these children from impoverished families," he added.
"There is a distinct crisis in this country and we don't want it to overwhelm Uganda entirely. It has to be responded to," he added.
Lewis visited displaced people's camps where more than 1.6 million people, who have fled their villages because of frequent rebel attacks, live. He also met so-called 'night commuters' -children who leave their homes every evening for fear of being abducted by the rebels to spend the night in towns.
"The international community is preoccupied with Darfur [in western Sudan], but ironically, there are as many displaced persons in northern Uganda as there are in Darfur," said Lewis.
He said that the number of HIV-positive Ugandans benefiting from free antiretroviral drugs was low and recommended that the treatments be made available to at least 100,000 people next year instead of the 60,000 currently.
"The target in Uganda seems to me to be too low. I suggest it should be raised to 100,000 by the end of next year. Everything I saw tells me that it can be raised. Everyone felt that they can increase the targets," said Lewis.
The LRA has been fighting the Uganda government since 1988. The insurgency has led to a spiral of violence and brutality against northern Uganda's civilian population. The rebels particularly abduct young boys for recruitment into their ranks, while the girls are forced to become "wives" to the rebel commanders.