UGANDA: 'One million to test' campaign logs first victory

Photo: Glenna Gordon/IRIN
Starting treatment earlier leads to fewer HIV-related deaths
Kampala, 27 November 2008 (PlusNews) - More than 1,000 people were recently tested for HIV at a busy marketplace in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, kicking off a nationwide drive that aims to help at least 20,000 people across the country know their status.

Between 26 November and 1 December, World AIDS Day, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), US-based NGO, has set a goal of testing one million people around the world.

AHF has formed partnerships with local organisations in Uganda's 80 districts to test as many people as possible before World AIDS Day; a drive in the central district of Masaka aims to reach at least 2,000 people on 28 November.

HIV prevalence is around six percent, but only 21 percent of Ugandans know their HIV status. Dr Kate Ssamula, project coordinator at Uganda Cares, a local AHF partner that provides clinical care and medication to HIV-positive people in rural areas, said people were less likely to take sexual risks that could lead to HIV infection when they knew their status.

"If you're negative you'll know to abstain or go for a test before engaging in sex with a new partner, and if you're positive you might stop moving around without protection, or you'll use a condom," she told IRIN/PlusNews. She said HIV-positive people who started treatment earlier were more likely to stay healthy longer and have positive outcomes from drug therapies.

Uganda Cares partnered with the Market Vendors Association of Uganda to launch the campaign targeting the thousands of people who work at or visit Kampala's Kamwokya Market, especially on Friday, the busiest day.

Javan Kagenda, a project officer for the market vendors, said: "Most market vendors don't know their status," because the long hours they worked made it difficult to be tested and get treatment. "If the services are brought to them, they will test." He was right; the large turnout for the testing event proved that many people wanted to know their status but hadn't had the opportunity.

Emuto Jafar, who drives a "boda boda", or motorcycle taxi, told IRIN/PlusNews: "I just want to know my status so if I need to get care I can find it." He had never been tested for HIV before, and acknowledged that he has unprotected sex with his girlfriend.

Kagenda said many market vendors shared sexual partners, since few had time to find partners in other social circles. This behaviour is called "kajegere", or chain, meaning that if one vendor is infected, he or she passes the infection to the next vendor, and so on.

A woman who declined to give her name discovered during the drive at the market that she was HIV-positive; although she was crushed by the result, she told IRIN/PlusNews: "Now I know, and so I will go for treatment."

As part of the campaign, AHF is partnering with 972 organisations in 72 countries around the world. The group is using a standard testing model at all sites, which involves group pre-test counselling, a rapid, one-minute test, post-test counselling and treatment referral.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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