At the beginning of the month, ONE Germany’s Johanna Stratmann had the unique opportunity to travel with ONE to Uganda. As part of our election campaign Ich Schaue Hin in Germany, ONE supporters Tim Mälzer (TV chef), Rea Garvey (rock singer) and Minh-Khai Phan-Thi (actress and TV presenter) went to see for themselves how Uganda is progressing in the fight against extreme poverty, and how development aid has made a difference on the ground.
Uganda is still severely affected by HIV/AIDS, and despite enormous progress since the 1990s, the epidemic is on the rise again. Approximately 1.4 million Ugandans, or 7.2 percent of all adults between 15 to 49 years, are infected with HIV, and 1.1 million children are AIDS orphans.
After meeting some of the people behind these staggering statistics, here the five most important things I’ve learned about the disease during my trip to Uganda:
1. Young people at the heart of the fight
Four out of five Ugandans are under the age of 30, and the whole ONE group was impressed by the energy and positivity of this young population that wants to enjoy life and at the same time build a better future for their country.
This demographic is not without challenges, and we learned from the volunteers at the Muvubuka Agunjuse Youth Centre that there’s a real need for youth-friendly health services to reach people with the targeted information about HIV that can help prevent transmission of the disease in the first place.
2. Testing is key
Billboards around the capital Kampala encourage citizens to get tested for HIV, and many focus on prevention of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy which still accounts for one in five of all new infections. If detected, there is now a 95 percent chance that a HIV-positive woman can deliver a healthy baby.
Tragically, we learned from staff at The AIDS Support Organisation’s (TASO) center that there is still a huge gap in take-up, especially with members of the rising middle-class in Uganda who are not keen on getting tested from fear of being stigmatized if positive.
3. There is life after access to treatment
As obvious as it may sound, it was only by talking in person to young people affected by HIV in the youth center, to the dance group of HIV-positive adolescents or the woman in the waiting room at the TASO center that I realized: these people are first and foremost mothers, sisters, brothers, dancers, craftsmen, students, farmers. Being a patient or client is a secondary perception.
As they are fortunate to have access to lifesaving HIV treatment and health services, they want more from life. The so-called “sustainable living” or “income-generating” programs accompanying health services are therefore key to fighting poverty!
4. Two chicks and one piglet can change your life
Florence Erugudo is part of an sustainable living project, and welcomed us into her home close to Entebbe. After both being diagnosed with HIV, Florence’s husband died in 2004, leaving her with six children and an uncertain legal situation concerning the property rights of her family home.
Thanks to TASO – an organization supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis – she not only received lifesaving medical treatment, but also the legal counselling that helped her keep her property, as well as chicks and a piglet to feed her family and generate a modest income. She has also now become a leader and mobilizer against HIV/AIDS in her community.
5. HIV is on the rise again
Despite the heart-warming and eye-opening success stories, health leaders such as Professor Vinand Nantulya of the Uganda AIDS Commission approached us with an urgent appeal before we left, as alarmingly since 2009, the number of new infections in Uganda has risen from 124,000 to 145,000 a year.
Current funding from international donors and the Ugandan government is not sufficient to contain the epidemic, and this worrying trend could cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans if financial efforts are not stepped up dramatically in the coming years.
This is a critical year to help fight HIV/AIDS in Uganda and worldwide. At the end of the year, donor governments will come together to replenish the Global Fund for the next three years, and it will be imperative that the Global Fund’s $15 billion financing target is met if we want to achieve an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime. In Germany, a new government will be elected in September, and meanwhile the European Union’s crucial budget negotiations continue.