Sunday, December 2, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Blog: World AIDS Day

I’m thinking about Uganda again on World AIDS Day. We’ve come so far since I was a child and no one knew what was causing AIDS or how not to get it. I remember a lot of misinformation, even a letter from my church about how congregants did not have to sip from the cup at communion anymore if they were worried about getting AIDS.

Thank goodness we know a lot more now. We have drugs so that people can live with AIDS. We can prevent mother-to-child transmission. And the numbers of deaths have declined enormously. I heard on the radio that 1.7 million people died of AIDS in 2011 ( – still 1.7 million too many. But consider also that 19 million HIV-positive people are receiving care and support, according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

The end of AIDS is a real possibility in our lifetime.

Yet for all our tech advances, something that our world still fights is misinformation and stigma. On my trip to Uganda with Shot@Life, I came face to face with challenges on the ground that only education and awareness can solve. Edward, a health care worker in Fort Portal, Uganda spoke to me and my fellow Shot@Life Champion, Jen Burden of World Moms Blog, at length about two social challenges his country.

Photo: Stephanie Geddes
1. The availability of effective drugs makes people less worried about AIDS.
With the availability of drugs for treatment, the condition of HIV/AIDS can now be hidden. A positive HIV test does not necessarily mean death or stigma anymore. “They can be HIV positive and they can still work. They can still look good and look healthy,” Edward said. So, many women and men are not taking the transmission of the disease as seriously as before. In fact, single women are far more concerned about avoiding pregnancy than avoiding AIDS, which can be hidden. Pregnancy cannot be concealed. While the women in the area we visited are very concerned about contraception to prevent pregnancy, they don’t always choose condoms – a method that would also prevent AIDS transmission.

2. Married women may be kicked out the home if they are HIV positive.
I heard this from several frontline health care workers and from a panel of mothers we interviewed on site. Although it is commonly known that the infidelity of husbands often spreads AIDS to wives, if a man finds out that a woman is HIV positive, he will accuse her of being unfaithful and contracting the disease from another man. Without being tested himself, he will divorce the woman. Her life will be shattered and his behavior will not change.

Yet Edward told us that if husbands and wives find out that they are HIV positive at the same time, they both receive counseling and medication together and have a very good chance at having happy lives. Uganda is conducting a campaign to encourage husbands and wives to be tested together at the Family Health Days conducted at mosques and churches. These are places that spouses come together, unlike the hard-to-reach clinics where often women come alone if they come at all.

Education and awareness are just as critical to beating the AIDS epidemic as technology and medications. I am hopeful, though, as I think on the emerging Family Health Day programs Edward and others bring to remote areas. And I'm also hopeful about the the AIDS awareness signs I saw all over the campus of Railway Primary School in the slums of Kampala, bringing awareness to children as soon as they can read. 


I'm proud of our world for how far we've come and if we don't let up on our advocacy, I believe we can reach the end of AIDS. Please join the fight and take action today to tell your senators and representative to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.


Jennifer Burden said...

Talking with Edward was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The world needs an HIV vaccine!

Jen :)

Unknown said...

We recognize that some of the greatest challenges in fighting diseases of poverty are organizational and managerial, not scientific or medical. With offices in over 25 countries, we partner with governments on a wide range of issues including HIV AIDS Care, malaria, and maternal and child health, as well as strengthening in-country health systems, expanding human resources for health, and improving markets for medicines and the efficiency of health resource allocation.