by Jacquelyne Alesi
On September 4, 2021, I was invited to be on a live TV talk show in English and another local language called Luo, talking about COVID-19 and HIV. This came after a series of other talk shows in other local languages. Then on September 28, 2021, I was pleased to be live on XFM 94.8, to provide information on the progress the country has made in the response to HIV, to highlight the recent rise in HIV among young people, and to discuss measures that should be taken.
Uganda is in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 9, 2021 there were 94,904 confirmed cases and 2,752 confirmed deaths. The third wave is showing a very rapid upward trend affecting more districts and wider range of age group. This has caused a lot of tension with reported deaths, hospitals running out of space and mad rush COVID-19 vaccine doses which unfortunately have been exhausted. This havoc has affected the entire Ugandan population, and people living with HIV in particular have become anxious, being categorised as high risk with compromised immunity.
On Friday July 30, 2021, the President gave directives on how COVID-19 will be managed. A resurgence plan has been developed for infection prevention and control. This included limitations in public and private transport, curfew times, strict observance of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and timely reporting in case of case detection. Under the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU) is concerned about the current situation of 1.4 million people living with HIV, and their needs related to information, access to uninterrupted HIV services including Antiretroviral Treatment (ART), medical care, or other services. NAFOPHANU is committed to supporting communities living with HIV through this crisis and through the state of health emergency was declared by the President and guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
To this end, the NAFOPHANU secretariat has been conducting radio and TV talk shows to advocate for uninterrupted HIV treatment and livelihood services, COVID-19 basics and vaccine information and uptake, referrals, linkages, and work with government and partner structures to reach people living with HIV and other affected communities.
The aim of the talk shows was to reach people living with HIV with accurate and appropriate messages and ease access to treatment in various localities in a bid to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the communities. We wanted to
- increase awareness of COVID-19 through accurate information sharing among people living with HIV and affected communities.
- increase HIV treatment and COVID-19 vaccine literacy among people living with HIV.
- advocate for and create demand for uninterrupted access to services by people living with HIV.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a set-back for the HIV response everywhere, including in Uganda. As shown by #ConfinedbyCovid, our peer research with the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), Salamander Trust and Making Waves, women and girls living with HIV were hugely impacted by the 2020 COVID-19 restrictions. In particular, we found:
- Access to SRH and HIV services has been severely undermined during the COVID 19 pandemic.
- The vital work of women and girls living with HIV on SRHR, HIV and COVID-19 in their communities is being ignored by governments and donors.
- Women’s access to food and money has been devastated by the pandemic.
- COVID-19 restrictions have brought serious privacy and confidentiality concerns for women and girls living with HIV
- COVID-19 has led to increases in violence against women and girls (VAWG).
- Digital communications leave out many women and girls.
- Before and during this crisis, funding has been in very short supply for organisations led by women and girls living with, and affected by HIV
Our peer research led to a set of calls for action, shown below.
We hope that our calls for action will be heard, and that uninterrupted access to services, treatment and support will be guaranteed for all people living with HIV in Uganda. We will continue to advocate for this, and for a COVID-19 response that is fully responsive to the realities of women and of people living with HIV.
Article by Jacquelyne Alesi
Reviewed by Lucy Wanjiku Njenga, Fiona Hale and Emma Bell
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