UGANDA: Campaigns tackle "the complexity of sexuality

Photo: Zoe Flood/IRIN
Seeing red over infidelity
kampala, 22 June 2009 (PlusNews) - New HIV prevention campaigns in Uganda are beginning to reflect the complexity of sexual relations, but experts warn they constitute only a small first step.

"Go Red for Fidelity" is one approach; it seeks to encourage faithfulness within marriage or long-term relationships, where over 40 percent of new infections reportedly occur.

"The Go Red campaign highlights the complexity of adult sexuality, which is something we haven't really approached before," said Cathy Watson, executive director of the Straight Talk Foundation, a local NGO that produces mass media messages on HIV for young people.

Uganda's much-lauded prevention campaign in the 1990s cut HIV prevalence in the adult population from about 18 percent to roughly six percent in 2000. But over the past few years prevalence has begun to creep up again, to around 6.4 percent.

A UNAIDS Modes of Transmission survey completed in 2008 found that 43 percent of new HIV infections in Uganda occurred in monogamous relationships, highlighting the need for prevention messages to shift from the traditional target of unmarried youth.

That is the point of "Go Red", according to Monica Ariyo Rukundo, the spokesperson for Program for Accessible Health, Communication and Education (PACE), which runs the campaign in conjunction with the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC).

"After a strong emphasis on 'zero-grazing' [a campaign promoting faithfulness to one sexual partner] in the 1990s, the focus changed; it stopped being the marrieds," Rukundo said. "This campaign is trying to encourage marriage and promote mutual faithfulness among 25-to-45 year-olds."

''It's like continuing to mop the floor while the tap is still flowing''
Since February 2009, billboards, television and radio spots, wristbands and viral text messages have encouraged Ugandans to be 'Reliable, Exceptional and Dependable'. The campaign seeks to "create a movement of passionate fidelity ambassadors" who identify themselves by wearing a splash of red "as a spark to ignite a conversation", the web site says.

Other recent public awareness programmes have also tried to deal with the more complex aspects of HIV transmission: an earlier PACE campaign focused on curbing cross-generational sex, while True Manhood, launched in June by local NGO, Young People Empowered and Healthy (YEAH), targets young men and the factors like alcohol abuse and transactional sex that puts them at high risk.

Campaigns need to go further

But according to Watson, the new campaigns are "just the beginning of a much larger conversation".

They are, for instance, silent on polygamous marriages, despite the UAC reporting that one in three Ugandan women is in a polygamous union.

"If you are entering a polygamous union as the second or third wife, do you insist that both the husband and first and second wife test?" said Watson. "It would be great to have public campaigns addressing it."

"There should be a different twist to the message," noted Professor David Serwadda, dean of the School of Public Health at Kampala's Makerere University. "A woman or man can be faithful, yet still be a great risk from their partner."

"We should move towards testing and counselling couples to prevent infection within families," he added.

And some are still sceptical about a campaign that encourages fidelity in a society where multiple sexual partnerships are so widely accepted.

Aaron Ocen, a 23-year-old "boda boda" (motorcycle taxi) driver in Kampala, remains unconvinced by the Go Red message: "There will always be people who cannot be faithful, they will not be stopped by this," he said.

Bringing prevention back to the fore

In the recent past prevention campaigns have tended to take a back seat; the Modes of Transmission study found that two-thirds of HIV/AIDS funding in Uganda was spent on treatment and care initiatives.

Leonard Okello, head of the international HIV team for the anti-poverty NGO, ActionAid, warned that unless the government invested in more effective prevention programmes, it was unlikely that prevalence would drop.

"We need to start thinking differently about HIV in order to reduce prevalence and minimise the pandemic's impact," he said. "Otherwise it is like continuing to mop the floor while the tap is still flowing."


Theme (s): Gender Issues, Prevention - PlusNews, Urban Risk,

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

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