HIV Prevention Messages in Need of Refocusing

Prof Vinand Nantulya Chairman Uganda Aids Commision
Prof Vinand Nantulya Chairman Uganda Aids Commision

The national effort for prevention campaigns against HIV/AIDS is in need of refocusing. Policy makers and care givers in the area of HIV/AIDS seem to agree that Uganda has not had a universal campaign effort in decades. Instead, there are varied campaigns, from government and its development partners; each communicating a different message.

Over the last decade, Uganda has been seen to be losing the HIV/AIDS fight, thus bringing the national prevention campaign efforts under scrutiny.

For instance, between 2005 and 2011, the national HIV prevalence rose from 6.4 percent to 7.3 percent.  The number of people living with HIV is estimated to have increased from 837, 000 to over 1.2 million during the same period.

In his presentation to health journalists from across the country, Prof. Vinand Nantulya, the Chairman of the Uganda Aids Commission stated that the national HIV-awareness efforts went   wrong, when messages stopped making sense to the public, by failing to state what action an individual should take.

Prof. Nantulya says that the Uganda Aids Commission lost focus of the importance of behavioral change in HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, as a tool to control the rate of new infections. This was in reference to the waning of the Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom-use (ABC) campaign, which was hailed as a successful behavioral change tool.

Daudi Ochieng, the Head of Communications at Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG) says that though government may not directly roll-out an awareness message, all the messages his organization intends to put out are vetted by the Health Promotion and Education Division of the Ministry of Health. This is supposed to be standard procedure for all organizations involved in HIV awareness promotion.

Recently however, a campaign that was rolled-out by Uganda Cares, a project of the US NGO AIDS Healthcare Foundation, reportedly came under question from the Uganda Aids Commission. The campaign, which was on billboards around Kampala stated; “Cheating? Use a condom; Cheated on? Get tested”. The Uganda Aids Commission ordered the NGO to take down the billboards, citing that they confused the public.

At the same billboard at Wandegeya in Kampala, a new message went up this week; “Don’t Get HIV; Don’t Pass It”.

Samuel Enginyu, the Senior Health Educationist from the Health Ministry, says that some of the messages by NGOs are made without following the proper channels. He adds that the “anti-cheating campaign” for instance portrayed a finger-pointing message, yet the national approach is to preach prevention and behavioral change.

Enginyu insists that the Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom-use (ABC) campaign still stands, and that is what all players should try to pass on.

But Alice Kayongo Mutebi of International HIV/AIDS Alliance feels that the Uganda Aids Commission has taken too long to come up with a universal message that can be adopted nationally. Between 2005 and 2011, new infections rose from 98, 000 to 124, 000 people.

Prof. Nantulya acknowledges these short falls. The Uganda Aids Commission Chairman says that with more direct messages and the involvement of the community at all levels, the National Development Plan target of reducing new HIV infections by 40 percent by 2015, is achievable..

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