KAMPALA – Uganda has made headway in the fight against HIV/Aids but with the success, new challenges have come. Although children that were diagnosed during the first years of life received treatment, are living longer and have presently reached adulthood, the country has no programme to cater for HIV positive young adults.
Dr Jonathan Wangisi, the former project director for operational research at TASO (The Aids Support Organisation) Eastern says despite this progress, researchers still have limited understanding of the exact mechanisms of preventing further spread of HIV/Aids amongst young adult that are HIV positive.
He explained that the prenatally HIV-infected adolescents (PHIV) and young adults present specific clinical, behavioural and social characteristics and demands because they are not catered for.
“We need to develop strategies to support these young people who have grown and now need to marry if we are to eliminate further infections. We have been confronted with this new development and how do we get out of it, because naturally these young people are in relationships and want to marry even when they know they are HIV positive,” said Dr Wangisi.
“The failure to cater for these positive and maturing adults could increase the spread of HIV and Aids in the country,” added Dr Wangisi.
The Advocacy & Community Empowerment report 2016 for PATH, says Uganda’s known oldest born positive has now turned 24 underscoring the fact that children with PHIV can live on into adolescence/adulthood.
The report adds that like all young people, these adolescents are sexually active and some have initiated childbearing and thus have sexual and reproductive health needs and rights; they have the freedom of choice regarding sexual matters, reproduction, marriage, family planning and the fundamental right to access comprehensive sexual health services and that they need help.
Mr Joshua Wamboga former Executive Director of The Uganda Network of Aids Service Organisations [UNASO] says these adolescents are liable to increased exposure to alcohol and drug use, fights, misdemeanours, and difficulty in maintaining appropriate self-care activities, such as the use of condoms, adoption of harm reduction measures, and proper use of medications.
He said these characteristics, together with issues related to the social vulnerability of youth, are contributing to the significant number of HIV infections that occur during this stage of life.
“There is a big gap today and it is a challenge. These young adults need more friendly services because they are in transition from adolescence to adulthood and need to be attended to,” said Mr Wamboga.
“I know that because of PMTC, many positive young adults are producing babies that are negative and research has revealed that the positive young adults [males] are looking for negative young adult females, so they need services. But it is unfortunate that these services are only in TASO, Kampala, Baylor and Mildmay making the upcountry young adults miss out, so there is a big gap,” added Mr Wamboga who is now the Executive Director at Uganda Association of Patients Organisation.
The former Uganda AIDS Commission chairman Pro Vinand Nantulya said the follow up of adults prenatally infected with HIV now poses new challenges vis-à-vis the benefits of ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment) for the HIV/Aids fight.
He said in many developing countries Uganda inclusive, the policies/programs targeting this group are either inadequate or lacking to help the infected young enjoy their sexuality responsibly and that this has serious consequences for HIV prevention strategies considering the main modes of transmission.
“We are staring at the face of a huge crisis unless we re-programme our policies to help the infected young adults enjoy their sexuality,” said Prof Nantulya.