UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
UGANDA: Looking forward to an AIDS-free generation
NAIROBI, 23 July (IRIN) - Uganda, the first African country to respond to the AIDS crisis, is "painstakingly working" towards an AIDS-free generation, Ugandan Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Janat Mukwaya said on Thursday.
She told journalists at the launch of UNICEF's 'Progress of Nations 1999' report in Nairobi that from the first case cited in her country in the early 80s, its political leaders began tackling the issue. "The government recognised that the first basic human right is the right to life. It realised that for development to be achieved and sustained, the well-being and protection of life of citizens had to be ensured," she said.
The country embarked on a multi-sectoral approach and openly talked about the disease. "We realised that since women are the guardians of culture and men just enjoy it, the women had to be taught to know how to protect themselves," Mukwaya said. Mobilisation of the communities from the village level and publicity are other methods that have been used in the fight against the pandemic.
"My visits to various youth centres show that the youth are using both birth control measures and condoms," she said. "Both males and females visit these clinics. This gives us hope that at last we will have an AIDS-free generation in a few years to come."
Last Wednesday, Uganda and the US announced the development of a cheaper and more effective drug, nevirapine, that reduces the rate of HIV transmission from mother to child by 50 percent. The drug was developed by Ugandan and American scientists. Uganda has also noted the biggest decrease in prevalence of HIV/AIDS among 15-19 year-olds, dropping from 38 percent in 1991 to 7.3 percent in some areas in 1996.
However, the AIDS epidemic has confronted Uganda with many challenges, such as caring for 1.1 million children orphaned by the disease. "These children not only suffer prejudice and neglect but the girls particularly, are left shouldering adult responsibilities like taking care of the sick and their siblings," Mukwaya said. "They have to work in exploitative conditions to ensure family survival. This means they have to drop out of school."
The UN Children Fund's Deputy Executive Director Stephen Lewis said HIV/AIDS had reached "catastrophic proportions" in eastern and southern Africa, eroding the hard-won infant and child survival gains of the last 20 years.
"We are confronting a deadly virus that has ripped apart the social fabric of societies across Africa, creating a generation of orphans who face an uncertain and frightening future," he said. He urged African governments to take a lead in breaking the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding this devastating disease and to prohibit discrimination and intolerance of any kind. He also called on rich countries to set up "a Marshall plan" for Africa to tackle the HIV/AIDS emergency.
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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