Uganda’s HIV Prevalence Rate May Be Higher Than Official Figure, NGO Director Says
A Ugandan nongovernmental organization on Tuesday at a press conference announced it believes Uganda's HIV prevalence rate is 17%, nearly three times the government's official rate of about 6%, BBC News reports (BBC News, 9/21). National Guidance and Empowerment Network Executive Director Rubaramira Ruranga said that the organization used its nationwide network of people living with HIV/AIDS to find out how many HIV-positive people are living in each village, according to BBC News (BBC News, 9/21). The survey was conducted over a 14-month period, and its findings also contradict UNAIDS estimates of a 4.1% prevalence rate among Uganda's adult population (Carroll, Guardian, 9/23). Ruranga also "expressed shock" at the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in Uganda, BBC News reports. According to the health ministry, 25,000 of the 120,000 HIV-positive Ugandans in the country have access to the drugs. About 3,000 of those patients are receiving the drugs at no cost; a typical regimen costs an average of $25 a month, which is too expensive for most people in the country, according to BBC News (BBC News, 9/21). Ruranga added that Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, as well as western donor countries, are "underplaying" the epidemic in order to "promote" the country as a "showcase for aid," the Guardian reports.
Although some HIV/AIDS experts were "skeptical" about NGEN's "unorthodox" methodology and said that a 17% prevalence rate was "too high," several also said that the government rate was "too low" and the country's "success story had been oversold," according to the Guardian (Guardian, 9/23). Dr. Elizabeth Namagala of the Ugandan Ministry of Health's AIDS Control Program said the NGEN research is "useful data" but "stressed" that the ministry's research was more scientific, BBC News reports (BBC News, 9/21). "We do not only count patients, we test patients," Namagala said, adding, "Not everyone who is sick actually has HIV, and not everyone who has HIV is sick" (Reuters, 9/21). The Ugandan government two months ago launched a nationwide survey of HIV prevalence and expects to publish its results next year, according to the Guardian. "I prefer to wait until then before commenting, but I would say that 17% sounds a little high," Ros Cooper, a health adviser at the U.K.'s Department for International Development in Uganda's capital Kampala, said. Beatrice Were, head of HIV/AIDS in Uganda for Action Aid, said that although NGEN's estimate was too high, governmental figures "overlooked" women who are unable to reach maternity clinics because of "poverty, remoteness or the war," according to the Guardian. "I would say the [prevalence] rate is between 10% and 12%," she said (Guardian, 9/23).
A kaisernetwork.org Newsmaker interview with Museveni, as well as video of his speech made in July at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, is available online.