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Ludwig Van Heucke, S.J.

In the late 1990s, UNAIDS started to publish indicators showing that the fight against HIV/AIDS
in Uganda was finally beginning to bear fruit. Those highly advertised figures, however, are controversial. To start with, analysts have claimed that the estimates of the initial infections in the late 1980s were unreliable, incomparable and inflated as too many Ugandans were declared as “aids
patients” without an hiv test. With overblown bottom-line indicators, it was argued, it is easy to demonstrate high success rates. Similar critiques were heard with regard to the UNAIDS figures of Aids-related orphans. The WHO eventually admitted, “In the Uganda enumeration study, no distinction
was made as to the cause of orphanhood, which in some areas included the effects of war.”

In 2000, UNAIDS understood the slight fall in infections to be probably a result of two factors. “On the one hand, the epidemic in many countries has gone on for so long that it has
already affected many people in the sexually active population leaving a smaller pool of people still able to acquire the infection. At the same time successful prevention programmes in a handful of African countries, notably Uganda, have reduced national infection rates and contributed to the
regional downturn,”

One can conclude, therefore, that the stabilization of HIV/AIDS in Uganda is not as spectacular as some like to suggest. The statistics do not call for complacency and the struggle against HIV/AIDS must continue unabated. On the other hand, it appears that
concerted efforts in Uganda have contributed to a slight fall in infection rates. The following factors may have played their part:

  1. The obvious ravage caused by aids in certain parts of Uganda (e.g. in ghost villages) forestalled denial
  2. The Ugandan Head of State publicly admitted the problem early on
  3. In 1987, the Uganda Red Cross (URCS) began its HIV/AIDS control activities by working alongside the late rock musician, Philly Lutaya – the first famous Ugandan to go public about his hiv status. They went from school to school throughout the country. They formed ‘Blood Donor Clubs’
    that recruited blood donors, and conducted peer education on HIV/AIDS
  4. Various religious groups started awareness programmes like ‘Youth Alive’ that quickly gained a good reputation
  5. The international community supported campaigns against HIV/AIDS in Uganda
  6. Churches in Uganda adopted a promotional approach in the fight against HIV/AIDS – instead of unproductive scare campaigns, while agreeing to disagree over issues like reproductive health (RH) and condoms
  7. A church leader is the head of the National Aids Control Programme (NACP) of Uganda
  8. A successful pilot project: the Uganda Drug Access Initiative (DAI) started November 1997. It is now being transitioned to the Ministry of Health.

While exaggerated success stories are misplaced, Uganda shows nevertheless a ray of hope in the darkness. We now see how corporate human effort can make a difference in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

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Jesuit Social Apostolate in Africa and Madagascar

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