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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid