Winning the war against Aids.

Author:Ojulu, Epajjar
Position:Around Africa: Uganda

Uganda was one of the countries in East Africa that had been devastated by the Aids epidemic that raged across the continent from the 1990s onwards. Aids is still a major health problem in Africa but a sustained campaign and significant cultural changes have seen a dramatic drop in infections. Uganda, reports Epajjar Ojulu, is winning the war against the dreaded disease.

For a long time after the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) hit Uganda in the early 1980s, being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS was tantamount to being handed a death warrant. At the time, no one knew anything about the disease.

What everyone knew was the disease emaciated its victims to skeletons. For this reason it was baptised "slim". In Uganda witchcraft is usually blamed for any mysterious or unknown calamity and HIV was no exception. For a long time the population lived in despondency and despair.

Today there is optimism among Ugandans that what was once an intractable disease, which has tormented them for four decades, is facing defeat.

Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng says the multi-sectoral and multipronged approach against the virus has not only reduced the infection rate from a whopping 27% in 1990 to 6.5% in 2017, it has also handed a lifeline to the 1.3m Ugandans carrying the virus, who for long believed they were as good as dead.

Today, they know they can live normal lives like any other person. The minister says that over 90% of the people carrying the virus have access to anti-retroviral drugs, the modern therapy, which stops the HIV virus from multiplying.

The country has come a long way in the fight against HIV/Aids. At the time the disease first struck, Uganda had just emerged from the 1979 war that routed the notorious dictator Idi Amin from power. The Amin regime had ravaged the country, including its healthcare infrastructure.

The HIV entry point and epicentre was the south-western region, from neighbouring Tanzania and not far away, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where according to Science magazine, the virus is suspected

to have made its entry into humans from chimpanzees. Science has documented a man who died of AIDS, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome's symptoms, in DRC's capital, Kinshasa, way back in 1959.

The man widely believed to be the first victim of the then-mysterious disease in Uganda, Gideon Kivumbi, was a prominent trader who used to ferry merchandise from the Lake Victoria ports of Kisumu in Kenya and Mwanza in Tanzania to Uganda.


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