Uganda's president tested
for HIV in public to encourage millions of untested people to check
their status, a critical step to stemming the spread of the virus in the East
Public leaders rarely test
for HIV in public in Uganda, despite recommendations from health workers that
it would set a good example in a country that has seen HIV infection rates
increasing. Uganda was once a global leader in efforts to fight Aids.
Not all government
officials at the event in the capital, Kampala, joined the president in
Putting love to the test
Ugandan officials have said
they want to test 15 million people by the end of 2014. They acknowledge it
will be hard to reach that target which is the reason they need the president to be a
Ugandans, test [for HIV]. Find out your status and let the state and health
workers manage you accordingly," said President Yoweri Museveni.
The HIV rate in Uganda stands
at 7.3%, up from 6.4% in 2005, according to a 2011 survey by Uganda's Ministry
of Health. Ugandan officials who presided over its reduction from 18% in 1992
to 6.4% in 2005 say they are confounded by the increase.
Ugandans health officials
say more married couples are getting infected, in part because of what campaigners have dubbed a "sexual network" in which married Ugandans
maintain secret lovers. One billboard in Kampala urges couples to "put
your love to the test" by testing for HIV.
Museveni and his wife are
"leading by example in a bid to roll back the HIV epidemic in
Uganda," the Uganda Aids Commission, the local body tasked with fighting
Aids, said, though the first lady did not attend the event where Museveni was
Rampant stigma persists
Experts say HIV testing is
critical to preventing new infections because those who know their status are
less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour. But getting people to test for
HIV has proved difficult in Uganda, where rampant stigma persists and where
thousands get infected each year.
The rise in new infections
is stretching the ability of Uganda's government and donors to provide HIV and
Aids treatment. More than 500 000 Ugandans need Aids treatment, many accessing
it through the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or PEPFAR.
If Ugandans reach their
testing goal, at least 400 000 more people will likely be in need of Aids
treatment, according to Musa Bungudu, the Uganda coordinator for the United
Nations' Aids agency.
Uganda once earned a global
reputation for successfully putting in place a policy called ABC: Abstain, be
faithful, or use condoms.
Students of a certain
generation were shown videos of the devastating toll of Aids on the human body,
and then told to postpone the first act of intercourse. But critics of Uganda's
policy to fight Aids say the country recently has focused more on treatment
rather than prevention.
Uganda's government now has
added male circumcision to the plan to fight HIV and Aids, in response to
studies showing the procedure reduces the risk among African men of getting HIV