In-depth: In the wake of the LRA: HIV in Uganda and Sudan

UGANDA: Arming young people in the north with condoms

Photo: Euan Denholm
The north has lagged behind the rest of the country in AIDS awareness
KITGUM, 29 August 2007 (IRIN In-Depth) - The signs that northern Uganda is returning to life after more than two decades of war are evident in the town of Kitgum, where new shops, hotels, bars and clubs are opening for business.

For the first time in a generation, young people are graduating from college and are able to find jobs in the formal sector. Flush with cash, they are the main patrons of Kitgum's busy pubs, where they down a few beers before heading to the nightclubs to party some more.

That worries a growing number of advocacy groups. They see HIV as the new threat if the peace holds and the north opens up, and have begun to focus on protecting the youth.

The International Rescue Committee, a US-based relief agency that works with refugees and victims of armed conflict, has begun supplying local bars with condoms, and social marketing organisation Population Services International is joining the initiative.

"Even this evening about six people have asked me for condoms. I give them as many as they ask for," said a waitress at a local bar.

James Otti*, who works as a driver for a humanitarian agency in Kitgum, agreed. "We need to have these condoms; we have seen people dying of AIDS and we don't want the same thing to happen to us. We have survived being killed in the war, so we don't want now to die of disease."

The hit-and-run conflict between the government and the rebel group, Lord's Resistance Army, has destabilised the entire region and preventing AIDS campaigns from being fully effective.

Now, the peace talks in Sudan have encouraged some advocacy groups to spread the message beyond the main towns, but "communication is still weak and HIV awareness is generally low in this region, so it is crucial to teach them about the pandemic while giving them condoms," said Olushola Ismail, head of office for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Kitgum.

"The very rural areas, such as those close to the Sudan border, are not yet ready for condom education; many people there still attribute HIV to superstition, but it [the outreach initiative] should be targeted to young, urban adults who can take in the message in its context," he added.

Northern Uganda has the highest HIV prevalence in the country: Kitgum is estimated at nine percent, one and a half times the national average.

*not his real name

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