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UGANDA: High HIV/AIDS levels among fishing communities

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


KAMPALA, 19 July (PLUSNEWS) - Alarmingly high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Ugandan fishing communities are threatening the lucrative fishing industry, which brought some US $105 million into the country in 2004, a new government survey has found.

"Chronic illness and death destroys livelihood and incomes, undermines the skills base in the fishing workforce, and reduces productivity. This is a threat to sustainable fisheries, poverty elimination and economic growth," the report said.

It added that the productivity of the fisheries sector, which makes up 12 percent of Uganda's Gross Domestic Product and nearly 20 percent of its total exports, could witness a decline with the impact of HIV/AIDS.

The 2004 survey studied 21 communities living on the shores of Lake George, Lake Edward, Lake Albert, the Albert Nile, at the border with the DR Congo and Lake Victoria, which Uganda shares with the East African countries of Kenya and Tanzania.

Recorded HIV/AIDS cases up to the end of 2002 showed that the highest prevalence in the country was in districts located along the shoreline of Lake Victoria.

"Twenty four percent of fishers on Lake Albert were HIV-positive, compared to four percent in the nearby agricultural villages. In Kasenyi [on] Lake George, 81 percent of the people who were able to access Voluntary Counseling and Testing in 2004 were found to be HIV-positive," the survey indicated.

The commissioner of fisheries, Dick Nyeko, said HIV/AIDS had the potential to reduce the availability of fish “as people become too weak to fish and fishing skills are lost".

Nyeko observed that the sector produced affordable fish products that supported food security for 17 million Ugandans annually. Over 300,000 tonnes of fish are produced every year, with fish consumption accounting for fifty percent of all animal protein consumption in the country.

An HIV/AIDS management official noted that most fishing communities lived in clusters in isolated locations.

"This [isolation] makes it difficult for them to access basic services. They lack access to safe water, latrines and healthcare, making them vulnerable to illness," Prof John Rwomushana, director of research and quality development at the Uganda AIDS Commission, said on Monday.

The survey found an increase in the number of fishermen opting to fish in shallow waters as people became too weak to take on the strenuous task of deep-water fishing.

"Fish breed in shallow areas. If these are heavily targeted, it has considerable implications for the long-term state of the fish stock. A sick fishing labour force will negate sustainable fishing," it said.
Rwomushana said the government was using the findings to develop a road map for all players to follow in order to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on the fishing sector.

The programme, coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, the Uganda AIDS Commission and other departments, will work to reduce HIV transmission as a direct response to the threat it poses to the productivity and sustainability of fisheries resources.

It will also help address other problems facing Uganda’s lakeside communities, including access to education, health centres, electricity, safe water and roads.

The survey further found that none of the communities on Lake Kyoga, Lake George and Lake Edward had access to safe drinking water, and frequent outbreaks of cholera and dysentery were reported. The nearest hospitals were some 67 km away, and took up to six hours to reach.

Up to 700,000 people are directly employed by the fishing sector in Uganda, and 1.2 million households are totally or partially dependent on the industry.

The country has seen national HIV/AIDS prevalence rates drop from 13 percent in the early 1990s to 6 percent by 2004, but according to UNAIDS, the disease remains the leading cause of death for Ugandans aged between 15 and 49 years.


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