News / Africa

Uganda's Soaring HIV Infection Rate Linked to Infidelity

Officials say HIV/AIDS infection rate is going up mainly because more Ugandans are having multiple sex partners, (File photo).
Officials say HIV/AIDS infection rate is going up mainly because more Ugandans are having multiple sex partners, (File photo).
HIV activists are struggling to find ways to address one of Uganda's biggest health crises: soaring HIV infections among couples, caused largely by cheating spouses.  The subject can be too politically and culturally sensitive to discuss.

The face of Uganda’s AIDS epidemic is changing.  In the 1990s, the country brought down its infection rate dramatically with a campaign advocating ABC - abstinence, being faithful and condoms. The government urged people to get off the so-called “sexual network” and into stable, committed relationships, which were considered safe.

But that is no longer true.  According to the results of a national survey released last year, more than 40 percent of new infections are happening among married couples.

Sandra Kyagaba works with the National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS.  She said more than half the women who come to them are married.

“Most of them when they come, they will share with you and say, ‘I contracted HIV from my husband, [and] I was really faithful.’  That means the husband was not faithful," she explained. "It’s really very common here.”

The issue of infidelity was thrust into the limelight recently by a billboard in downtown Kampala.  Put up by the U.S.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, or AHF, it read, “Cheating?  Use a condom.  Cheated on?  Get tested.”

AHF’s Omonigho Ufomata says the organization is prepared to be blunt if it will help people protect themselves and their partners. “We are trying to drive at the heart of what’s raising infection rates in Uganda, and also other places all across the world, actually.  So we’re taking a pragmatic and practical approach," Ufomata stated. "Saying that people stray outside of relationships.  It’s not about judgment, it’s not about trying to change that behavior or criticize it, but simply that people protect themselves and protect their partners.”

But the billboard outraged many Ugandans, who saw it as condoning infidelity.  Religious leaders protested, and the government-run Uganda AIDS Commission ordered AHF to take it down, telling the media the billboard was spreading the “wrong message.”  Organizations should instead be advocating fidelity, said the commission’s director.

The billboard has since been removed, but a number of activists, including Kyagaba, say its message was simply realistic.  Infidelity is ingrained in Ugandan culture, she said, and efforts to bring down infection rates must take that into account.

“Some cultures think that having more than one wife is a prestige, is being big in manhood, and all that. So even if I don’t tell you to go and cheat, I know you are going to do it.  It’s common in Africa.  So it’s better you have that information within you that if you are going to cheat on me, or have someone else, then it’s better you use a condom,” Kyagaba said.

The only way to fight the epidemic, she said, is for Ugandans to speak honestly about their behavior - something that has not been happening enough.

“With HIV, the communication has to change.  Once you communicate in abstracts by beating bushes, then someone won’t get the message.  Sometimes you need to be direct for someone to get the message right,” noted Kyagaba.

With infection rates rising for the first time in 20 years, nearly everyone in Uganda agrees that something needs to change.  But activists and the government have yet to agree on what.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More