For close to a decade now, Mbarara district which lies approximately 282.8KM from the Capital Kampala, has always been a hub for increasing HIV rates. For example, in 2013, it was listed among the 13 high HIV risk districts in Uganda by research was conducted by Makerere University School of Public Health and Mbarara District Local Government. In 2015, records at Mbarara health department showed that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate at Nyeihanga and Buteraniro trading centers stands at 20.2 percent more than double the 7.3 percent national average.
In commemoration of the 2018 World AIDS Day, Reach A Hand Uganda conducted a one week long campaign dubbed “One Week to December” aimed at creating awareness about the need for integrated HIV/AIDS information and services. Some of the causes of these ever increasing HIV rates came to life.
Health centres are too far
Emmanuel Fokushaba one of RAHU peer educators based at Bugamba Health Centre IV expressed concerns about the long distances young people trek to access sexual reproductive health and rights information and services.
“From the different community outreaches that we conduct, you meet young girls below the age of 18 who are pregnant. When you ask them if they knew the choices and options they had when engaging in early sex, they tell you they never.” He says.
Bugamba sub county which has a population of 27,664 people who live in 74 villages and 7 parishes. With this population however, the sub country has only one health centre. This means that someone has to trek the hilly areas to go to a health centre.
There are no services in the health centres
Isaac Birungi one of the locals who attended another build up activity in Ndeija sub county where RAHU was conducting a community outreach mentioned that there are no family planning services in the health centres.
“When you decide to go to a health centre, it means that that is the last resort you have. But I have gone to the health centre more than once to get condoms and learn about family planning services but this has never been helpful and therefore I don’t waste time going to the health centres.” Isaac mentioned.
A lot needs to be done
Dr Peter Sebutinde, the District Health Officer of Mbarara district believes that the district has a lot of potential but this can only be realized if young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights are fulfilled through implementation of policies.
“Efforts to reduce sexual reproductive health challenges for example teenage pregnancy and HIV amongst youth must be integrated in policies that extensively address these elements through comprehensive programmes of behaviour change, social and economic development, health and sexuality education and in general, reproductive rights for young people” he mentioned while speaking at the World AIDS Day commemoration at Mbarara High School Grounds.
“Crucially, such efforts must also include boys and men, whose attitude to girls and women underpin many pervasive social problems beyond Mbarara” he concluded.