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Uganda: HIV Patients Find Hope in Antiretroviral Drugs
  New Vision (Kampala)
9 December 2007
Posted to the web 10 December 2007
Conan Businge
THE sky is full of dark clouds, which look solid enough to send a heavy downpour. But Fatima, a vendor in Kasese town market, looks unbothered. She has to work hard to sustain herself and her HIV-positive son, alongside three other children.
Fatima tested HIV-positive nine years ago. A few months later, doctors recommended that she starts taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).
"This was a dream come true. At first, I was so shocked, but with the ARVs, I have seen at least my three children get through primary to secondary level," Fatima says.
She is one of the thousands of Ugandans that have benefited from the nine-year-old ARV therapy. With the ARVs, there is now hope that one can live for decades with HIV.
In 1998, Uganda began one of the first test programmes in Africa, distributing antiretroviral drugs. Their target was to find out how an ARV programme could be set up and run in a poor country.
Patients had to pay for their medication, although at reduced prices. At the end of the study, the health ministry used the lessons it had learned to start its national strategic framework on HIV/AIDS.
In June 2004, Uganda begun giving out free ARVs to people living with HIV. The initial consignment was funded by the World Bank. Other funds have come from America's PEPFAR initiative.
Uganda's target was to have 60,000 on treatment by the end of 2004. According to UNAIDS/WHO estimates, this target was not attained as 40,000 and 50,000 people were receiving drugs.
However, the number rose to between 71,000 and 79,000 by the end of 2005 and to 96,000 by the end of 2006, which means that about 41% of those in need of treatment were receiving it.
According to AVERT, an international AIDS charity, in mid-2006, the growth and effectiveness of the treatment were put in jeopardy following the suspension of the Global Fund support.
Save the Children, another international organisation, says Uganda needs to build on whatever successes it has achieved. It still has an alarmingly high HIV prevalence and unless a continued effort is made to keep people aware of the dangers of HIV, the scourge's prevalence may increase.
Warren Tukwasibwe, Save the Children's HIV/AID advisor for the western region, says there is need to have treatment brought closer to the people.
Uganda is one of the 15 countries that receive funding from America's $15b President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Initiative. The initiative aims at increasing ARV treatment programme.
Given that Uganda has about a million people living with HIV/AIDS, this needs to be implemented fast.
It is important for the Government and stakeholders to know that although ARVs are now free, some patients do not access them. Someone should stretch a hand to reach them.
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