By Sembatya Apollo
There is a rise in HIV infection among older men, according to health experts. Information from Uganda Aids Commission-UAC shows that majority of men between 45 and 49 years of age who have been seeking health services in the past years tested positive.
This, according to health experts is worrying and likely to see an increase in the disease burden among the already 1.2 million adults out of the 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. Victor Rwengabo, the Uganda Aids Commission zonal coordinator for Gulu notes that their finding indicates older men between 45 and 49 years of age are contracting HIV/AIDS compared to young men.
Young people (between 15-and 24 years) are responsible for 34% of new HIV infections annually. He notes that although they are yet to get concrete reasons for the new trend, he says the key factors among them is financial stability, long travels out of home, and high sexual libido among men between 45 and 49 years of age.
According to Rwengabo, this is directly contributing to the high HIV/AIDS burden among young girls who target these men, adding that it’s the reason the presidential fast-track initiative is focusing on men.
Dr. Hilary Alima, an HIV/Aids Specialist, says men still have low health-seeking behaviors in regards to understanding their HIV/Aids status, which he said also applies to young men. He however noted that the high HIV prevalence among older persons is perturbing, saying it begs answers from the target group.
“The men, the boys and children are a gap and are not testing. We have actually found out of late that older men above 49 years-old are beginning to get HIV/Aids infection. The data is very clear. We are trying to understand what could be the driving factor,” Dr. Halima said.
He says the Index and partner testing where a person who has been diagnosed with HIV brings or identifies their sexual partner for voluntary HIV/Aids testing is positively helping in the fight against the scourge in the region. HIV/AIDS prevalence in mid-north comprising of Lango and Acholi sub regions still stands at about 7.2 percent, higher than the national average of 6.2 percent.
Dr. Michael Ochwo, an expert on HIV/Aids at The Aids Support Organization-TASO, says the high prevalence mostly among adults has now been compounded by the low response to treatment from corporates. He says many are dying silently fearing being stigmatized while accessing some of the health facilities providing the life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy, while others are now purchasing drugs from Kampala or sharing with their spouses.
Dr. Ochwo explains that launched an initiative last year that provides exclusive services to the corporate class in their comfort outside the normal times of treatment.
He says currently 64 corporate clients are receiving treatment through this arrangement, which wouldn’t have been possible. At least 8,706 clients are currently enrolled in ART at the Gulu TASO center. This is followed by Gulu Regional Referral Hospital with 6,000 clients and St. Mary’s hospital Lacor with 4,500 clients.
He however says that although such an initiative is helpful in ensuring that men of corporate class don’t miss out on treatment, their efforts to scale it up are hampered by limited finance and stringent donor fund directives. Early this year, Kitgum district health officials revealed an increase in HIV/Aids cases within Namokora, Orom, and Lagoro sub-counties, which stood at 3.8 percent above the district rate of 3.4 percent mostly among boys and men 15-49 years old.
Kitgum district HIV/Aids prevalence rate stands at 7.3 percent, the highest in the Acholi sub-region where nearly 60,000 people are living with the disease. Uganda still registers 1,000 new infections and 500 deaths every week, according to the Presidential Fast -Track Initiative on Ending HIV and AIDS in Uganda fact sheet released last year.