via PlusNews Global

Uganda’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has risen from 6.4 percent to 6.7 percent, according to a recently released national AIDS Indicator Survey.

The population-based HIV serological survey showed that 6.7 percent of adults aged between 15 and 49 were HIV-positive, while at least 500,000 people have been infected with the virus in the past five years.
Uganda’s HIV prevalence fell from a high of 18 percent in 1992 to 6.1 percent in 2002; this rate later stabilized and then stagnated at about 6.4 percent in 2004, when the last such survey was conducted.

Some 7.7 percent of women are positive, compared to 5.6 percent of men, according to the 25-page preliminary report launched by Health Minister Christine Ondoa on 15 March in the capital, Kampala. The full report is due for release in June 2012.

Government officials have played down the higher prevalence. “The increase is not much… because of the population growth; there are new people entering into the age bracket of 15 to 19,” said Dr Zainab Akol, programme manager for HIV in the Ministry of Health.

However, activists are concerned that the new statistics are the result of gaps in the government’s HIV prevention programmes.

“I don’t agree that the rise is merely as a result of an age shift – prevention efforts do not match the needs of the population… it is not uncommon to run out of basic [HIV prevention] supplies like condoms,” said Milly Katana, long-term activist and one of the inaugural board members of the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“We are becoming increasingly concerned about risk compensation as a result of failing HIV prevention messages,” she added. “People, especially the elites in cities, have a false sense of safety… we did work 10 years ago but it is not enough; behaviour change is not sustainable without regular doses of information.”

Despite years of condom promotion, the survey found that just 28.1 percent of women and 31.4 percent of men aged between 15 and 19 used a condom during their last sexual encounter, dropping to 6.7 percent and 12.2 percent respectively among 30- to 39-year-olds.

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