Latest figures released by the Ugandan ministry of health this week show that the number of new infections dropped to 127,000 cases in 2014, down from 137,000 recorded in the year 2013.
This shows that HIV infections have had a successive drop over the last four years since 2012 when about 140,000 new infections were recorded. In 2011, there were 160,000 new infections.
The latest findings are based on records from district health facilities across the country, which show that 1.6 million people, of whom180,000 children, are living with the HIV virus.
“We estimate that about 1.6 million people were living with HIV in Uganda last year,” the health minister, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye disclosed on Tuesay, quoting new findings by the ministry.
District health officers, development partners and government officials are meeting in Kampala to assess Uganda’s interventions in the fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge since 2010.
The report shows that 713,774 patients are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) at 1,603 health facilities countrywide, out of 1.4 million people who need treatment.
The number of babies born with HIV reduced by half to 4,000 in 2014 compared to 8,000 in the year 2013. By 2011, about 28,000 babies were being born with HIV.
HIV-related deaths are now estimated at 63,000, a marginal drop from 66,000 in 2011 and 120,000 in 1998, according to statistics from the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC).
Dr Elioda said the progress in fighting HIV was encouraging, but warned that the figure was still high and HIV-related deaths ‘unacceptable.’ He also warned against risky behaviour.
“We are losing 172 people per day, translating into 7 deaths every one hour. Even in this modern age, some people open their zippers to people they barely know,” the Minister observed.
Health experts are upbeat that the drop in new infections, coupled with enrollment of new people on treatment and the decline in deaths will bring the scourge under control.
Prof Vinand Nantulya, the UAC chairperson described the progress as a ‘’tipping point’ which is critical in the control of epidemics. He, however, warned Ugandans against complacency
“I appeal to every Ugandan to live responsibly. Protect yourself, your spouse, your child and your fellow citizens by testing for HIV and seek treatment if you test positive,” he advised.
In 2013 alone, 194,000 patients were enrolled on HIV treatment. Recent treatment guidelines recommend that treatment for people with a CD4 count of 500, instead of 350.
According to the 2011 Uganda Aids Indicator Survey, 7.3% of Ugandans have HIV prevalence increased from 6.4% in 2005 to in 2013.
Health ministry officials say the changes, coupled with expansion of HIV testing services has partly been responsible for the high prevalence rate, thereby increasing demand for the services.
Dr Elioda revealed that government was currently faced with a funding gap to a tune of $650m needed to keep people on treatment for the next three years.
The US government, which contributes the largest share of funding for HIV interventions with $320m per year, has said it will realign its funding to support specific interventions.
The US Charge d’Affaires, Patricia Mahoney, said in an interview with New Vision that although the amount in funding would remain the same, government
“The cost of keeping people on ART is going up but the funds for it have not increased. We need to use resources in a smart way that in order to capitalize on the gains,” she said.
She advised that the interventions should be data-driven in order to ensure that they target areas where the HIV epidemic is highest.
The director general of health services, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said the health ministry was preparing to conduct an Aids Indicator Survey to provide new data that will aid planning.
She said information from district health officials would be incorporated in the next National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan, the Health Sector Strategic Plan and other government policies.
Dr Aceng called for a coordinated response in the fight against HIV, noting that some agencies were running parallel programmes instead of sharing.
Government officials have raised concern that some agencies fund parallel interventions, leading to duplication of work and internal brain drain where experts move from one project to another.
Aceng said current efforts are focused on ensuring ARV drug supplies are available for those in need, purchase of testing kits and prevention of HIV to babies, among other priorities.
Dr Musa Bungudu, the UNAIDS country director commended Uganda’s progress in stemming new infections but said more effort in stepping up HIV testing and treatment of cases.
“Uganda is making good progress in reducing new infections, but it’s like cleaning the floor when the tap is still running. More funds from government are needed for HIV testing,” he said.
By 2025, new HIV infections could rise to 2.1 million infections, with 530,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths if interventions are not implemented, estimates by the health ministry show.