UN envoy says Uganda must do more to fight AIDS
Last Updated: 2004-08-02
KAMPALA (Reuters) – A U.N. AIDS expert criticised Uganda on Saturday for limiting the number of HIV patients it plans to treat with life-prolonging drugs and challenged Kampala to retake its place as leader in the fight against AIDS.
"Uganda’s target of treating 60,000 people with ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) by the end of 2005 is far too low," Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy, told reporters in the Ugandan capital.
"I believe that target should be raised to 100,000 people. Everything I have seen persuades me that target can be reached. I got a very strong sense that Uganda could again be in a leadership position on this issue," he said.
Uganda’s government has been praised by donors for launching an aggressive anti-HIV/AIDS education campaign that has seen infection rates fall to about 6 percent of the population today, compared with 30 percent in the early 1990s.
Still, the East African country has an estimated 1.2 million people who carry the AIDS virus.
Lewis said among the hardest hit are populations in remote war-torn northern Uganda, where Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have waged a brutal insurgency for 18 years against the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
The HIV prevalence in the districts affected by the conflict is twice the rate seen in the rest of Uganda, he said.
"The people of northern Uganda are wrestling with the conflict on one hand, and with the pandemic on the other," he said. "Northern Uganda is truly under siege."
He said aid workers told him half the girls who were abducted by LRA rebels and then subsequently escaped, or were rescued later, tested positive for HIV. "That is a nightmare," he said.
Lewis was speaking at a news conference in the capital Kampala after meeting government officials, health workers and HIV/AIDS patients during a 1-week tour of the country.
He said all the health professionals he spoke with told him they would be able to treat many more people affected by the pandemic if only the ARV drugs were made available.
The Ugandan government last month began distributing free ARVs to about 3,000 HIV/AIDS patients.
Lewis also called on rich Western nations to make good on their promises to increase the funds available for ARVs in the developing world.
"How long will it be before the conscience of the international community is pricked and they realise that we don’t need to continue losing all these lives?" he said.