Health experts have revealed that to end new HIV transmission among Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW), the transmission drivers should first be identified and addressed.
Statistics on HIV show that the prevalence of HIV is higher among this specific category (AGYW), compared to males.
According to the Uganda Population-Based HIV Impact Survey (UPHIA) 2017, the prevalence of HIV among the adult population aged 15-64 is higher among females (7.6%) compared to males (4.7%).
The HIV prevalence is almost four times higher among females aged 15-19 and those aged 20-24, compared to their male counterparts.
During a virtual training on covering HIV, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Gender-based Violence organized by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) and the United Nations Joint Support Programme on HIV and AIDS (UN-JUPSA), it was noted that out of the estimated total of 1,460,000 persons living with HIV in the country, 830,000 (57%) are women older than 15 years, while 570,000 (39%) are men older than 15 years and the rest are children (100,000) less than 15 years.
The 2016/17 UPHIA further showed that the HIV prevalence among girls 0-10 years is 0.5%, but by 15-19 years it has increased to an average of 1.8 %, 5.1% by 20-24 years, and 8.5% by 25-29 years.
Dr. Daniel Byamukama, the Head of HIV Prevention at Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) revealed that to address HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women, the drivers need to be addressed.
“If we can identify the drivers of HIV infections in this country, we have reason to be confident that we can come up with a solution to address them,” he said.
Highlighting the drivers of new HIV infections, Dr. Byamukama classified them into behavioral, sociocultural and biomedical.
“Behavioral refers to personal behaviors; the things we do. When you chose to go without a condom, have more than two girlfriends, have sex while you are still very young,” he explained.
He said that non-disclosure, sex work, alcohol and drug abuse also lie within the behavioral drivers.
However, the biomedical factors relate to the things to do with one’s body that put one at risk of catching the virus such as discordance, low male circumcision, sexually transmitted infections (STI), viral loads of sex partners and others.
He said studies have shown that communities which are more circumcised than others, like Arab regions are protected by such cultures.
“We have also done studies here in Uganda show that circumcision is protective and offers some protection. We encourage all men to be circumcised,” he added.
Meanwhile, the structural issues are societal and beyond one’s control. The major ones are; poverty; gender inequalities, gaps in access to prevention, care, and treatment services, high levels of stigma and discrimination and violence.
“There’s still so much gender inequality, there are still gaps in access to services, high level of stigma human rights challenges like early marriages, being out of school, problematic laws, regulations and policies,” he said.
Uganda’s Commitment to End HIV in AGYW
Among the various initiatives the country has employed in ending HIV in AGYW is the Presidential Fast-Track Initiative (PFTI).
Launched by His Excellency Y.K Museveni in June 2017, Dr. Byamukama said that PFTI is based on a five-point plan:
- Engaging men in HIV prevention and closing the tap on new infections, particularly among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW).
- Accelerating implementation of test-and-treat and attainment of the Fast-Track 90-90-90 targets, particularly among men and young people.
- Consolidating progress on eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission (EMTCT).
- Ensuring financial sustainability for the HIV and AIDS response.
- Ensuring institutional effectiveness for a well-coordinated, multi-sectoral response.
Byamukama asked the journalists to join the move to advocate for responsible behavior, decamping aggressive social norms, stigma and discrimination.
“We would want to see role models like media journalists from the whole society coming out and using their influence to promote responsible behavior,” he added.