By John Agaba
- “Placing condoms in toilets is encouraging people to go and have sex…”
State Minister for Ethics and Integrity Fr. Simon Lokodo shocked HIV/AIDS experts when he revealed that he always destroys condoms that are placed in hotel restrooms because they promote promiscuity.
Call it another of his hoaxes, or pretense, or his idealism. But the controversial minister from Dodoth County West in Kaabong District said how he feels “very bad and annoyed” at finding the “whole containers (inside the toilets) full of condoms.” “Where I can, I collect them and throw them away,” he said.
This was during the Tanzanian members of parliament on HIV/AIDS Committee visit at the Uganda AIDS Commission on Monday.
Lokodo said this in presence of AIDS experts, policy makers and the press, and didn’t flinch about it one bit.
He actually emphasized it — because, to him, placing condoms in hotel toilets is “encouraging people to go and have sex.”
“Yet we want people to abstain. And condoms are not 100%,” he said.
“I’m dissatisfied with having all these things (condoms) flooding the whole place. Abstain. Simply abstain. Abstinence is the only 100% safe way of protecting oneself from HIV.”
The AIDS experts and activists and members of Parliament from Tanzania attending the meeting looked bewildered and seemed to wonder: “what can we expect from an ethics minister who is detached from reality?”
But the experts outside, the ones not attending the meeting, couldn’t stomach it — the insult. They felt they had been betrayed, because Lokodo is government, or so represents the leadership the country so badly craves to cause an impact in the fight against HIV.
“We registered some mention when we (Uganda) reduced her HIV prevalence from over 18% to 6.4% in the 1990’s. But, we are back where we started (to the drawing board). Statistics (The 2011 Uganda Aids Demographic Survey) indicate that our national prevalence has since risen to 7.3%, and about 1.6 million people are living with HIV. People like the minister are frustrating us.
“Donors, the USAID, invest a lot of money in these programmes (condoms) and you have a minister saying they throw them (condoms) away. This is an insult,” said AIDS activist Margret Happy.
“We are making gains in the fight against HIV. Today we have less and less babies born with the virus (about 5000) and more people on treatment (750,000) than the number of new infections (130, 000). But we need all interventions — ABC (abstinence, being faithful, using condoms), HIV counseling and testing, ARVs, circumcision, elimination of mother to child transmissions. We need combination prevention to cause an impact,” said health activist Alice Kayongo.
During the 5th Annual East African Scientific Conference at the Kampala Serena Hotel in March, the UN Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) country representative, Musa Bungudu, made a passionate call about the lack of condoms in major public places, as one of the reasons Uganda still lags behind as the third contributor of new HIV infections the world over — third to Nigeria and South Africa which contributes the most.
The country representative must have been disappointed with the minister’s remarks. He too was in attendance of the meeting at the Uganda AIDS Commission.
A student from Makerere University, Aidah Nanteza, said: “People use condoms to protect themselves against HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases, plus unwanted pregnancies. Some people can’t abstain. It’s a pity our minister is not living on earth.”
The ethics minister, after making the controversial remarks, warned Ugandans against ‘new sex trends’ especially orgies or group sex that he said were on the rise in Kampala and fuelling the spread of the virus.
Aids activist Major (rtd) Rubaramira Ruranga called improved HCT services and stringent laws in handling cases of persons who intentionally infect others with the virus.
Lediana Mafuku, the leader of the Tanzanian delegation, said the members of parliament were in Uganda to, among others, borrow a leaf on how Uganda has managed to reduce the number of babies born with the virus and to effectively communicate her HIV prevention strategy.
After the visit at the UAC, they visited the Reach Out Mbuya demonstration facility and the Cipla Quality Chemicals factory in Luzira Kampala. They are also scheduled to visit the AIDS Support Organisation and the Health ministry, and have a dialogue with their counterparts on the Ugandan parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS.