News ID: 262232
Published: 1155 GMT November 29, 2019

Complacency a key concern as HIV epidemic persists in Africa

Complacency a key concern as HIV epidemic persists in Africa

AIDS has no cure. HIV is still here. But some people are forgetting that.

Those are some of the bold messages Uganda’s leader is emphasizing as health officials try to stem stubbornly high infection rates among young people in this East African country that years ago won praise as a global leader in fighting the epidemic, AP reported.

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected, fewer people are dying from AIDS as treatment is more widely available and patients live normally. Yet some officials and activists worry that success may be encouraging a sense of complacency.

The head of HIV prevention at Uganda’s AIDS agency, Dr. Daniel Byamukama, recently asked leaders of a popular church that organizes a retreat for young people to give him 20 minutes to make a presentation about AIDS. They turned him down, saying “AIDS is common sense” these days.

Many young people believe “HIV is gone,” he told The Associated Press.

In Uganda and neighboring Kenya, countries with two of the world’s highest AIDS rates, campaigners point to lower-than-satisfactory HIV testing rates among adult men, early sexual experiences among many adolescents, inadequate knowledge of HIV and reproductive health and even what UNAIDS calls “a crippling fear of buying condoms” among many Ugandans.

Now Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who earned praise in the 1980s for his government’s openness in public campaigns against HIV, believes officials have focused too much on treatment in recent years and wants them to speak simply to young people with messages noting that “HIV is here with us.”

An estimated 500 Ugandans die weekly from AIDS-related illnesses.

“Why are you in a hurry to have sex at 16, at 18, at 20 and then you die, or you start having problems which you may live with all your life? Why don’t you wait, hold on, you study, finish your degree and then look for a spouse at the right time?” Museveni said in a video released as part of a new campaign backed by UNAIDS, a United Nations agency.

More than 37 million people were living with HIV worldwide in 2018, with Africa accounting for nearly one in every 25 adults infected with the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

Africa’s young people, especially girls, are among the worst affected. Girls made up 79 percent of new HIV infections in people ages 10 to 19 in East and southern Africa in 2017, according to UNAIDS.

More than 90 percent of deaths worldwide from AIDS-related illness among adolescents occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, UNAIDS said.

And infection rates among young people likely will rise as Africa experiences a youth boom, with its population of over 1.2 billion expected to double by 2050, according to the UK-based AIDS charity Avert.

Health authorities and campaigners in Uganda, with over 70 percent of its population under age 30, said the fear factor once associated with HIV has dissipated, partly encouraging risky sexual behavior.

Earlier this year Ugandan health authorities released a report saying an estimated 1,000 people get infected with HIV every week, 34 percent of them between ages 15 and 24.

In Kenya, 51 percent of all new HIV infections in 2015 occurred in people between 15 and 24, up from 29 percent in 2013. One in three of all new HIV infections in Kenya occurs among teenagers aged 15 to 19, according to official figures.

Both Kenya and Uganda have intensified efforts to promote self-testing. An oral HIV self-test kit, piloted in Kenya, was launched in Uganda in September by authorities who say they hope it will encourage more men to know their status.

Of the 1.4 million Ugandans living with HIV, 14 percent are not aware of their positive status. It means they are not getting treatment and can infect others.

Health officials have similar worries about HIV and youth in southern Africa, the world’s hardest-hit region. In South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed country, just 23 percent of young men have “correct and comprehensive knowledge” about the virus, according to UNAIDS. South Africa has more than seven million people living with HIV, the most of any country.

The UN, which in August named Ugandan activist Winnie Byanyima to lead its AIDS agency, is leading efforts to end the global epidemic by 2030.

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