By Andrew Besi
Patient Zero in the United States did not go peacefully. His fragile 16-year-old body riddled, among others, with rare cancerous lesions known as Kaposi’s sarcoma - a skin disease found in elderly men descended from the Mediterranean.
But Robert Rayford - for long referred to as Robert R - was not the first human to suffer from this unknown but very infectious and fatal viral infection.
In the Belgian Congo metropolis of Leopoldville - now Kinshaha - Scientists estimate (that) what we now know as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was circulating there as early as the 1920s.
In fact,10 years before Robert R’s death in 1969, the Belgian Congo registered its first confirmed victim of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) - the disease as a result of being HIV positive.
1969 was also a chaotic year in what was shaping out to be East Africa’s backwater of Uganda.
Then-president Apollo Milton Obote launched his “Move to the Left” campaign culminating in what Dr. Obote and his UPC framed in October, as “Common man’s Charter” which briefly was “ ….that political and economic power must be vested in the majority.”
It was also the year Pope Paul VI touched down at Entebbe, his first time to Africa as pontiff declaring to our parliamentarians: Today, unfortunately, situations have arisen in the world, and also in Africa, of such unease and such aversion to peaceful life in common …”
The pontiff was of course, referring to the rising tide of war and political upheaval across Africa as a result of the “Cold War’ on the one hand and as a result of corrupt non Pan African leaders on the other.
It would be 10 years after this historic papal visit and 20 years after Congo’s first HIV case before the first suspected cases of HIV/AIDS would be recorded in Uganda.
The ravage of Idi Amin’s 1979 war with Tanzania backed Kikoosi Maluum of Dr. Obote and Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) of Mr. Yoweri Museveni meant that in the beginning, many locals in the border area of Rakai - from whence it first appeared on our territory, believed this new wasteful disease to be the work of Tanzanian “wizardry” - retribution for Amin’s disturbance.
Not until after the second liberation war resulting in Dr.Obote’s ouster in 1985 by Gen.Tito Okello and Brig Bazillio Okello - the Okellos - and subsequent liberation of Kampala and Uganda from the Okello junta by Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) did the true scale of HIV/AIDS begin to be understood.
The first 900 cases of HIV were officially recorded in 1986 rising to 6,000 cases by 1988.(Uganda AIDS control program 1989).
These unfortunate and alarming statistics continued thus: 86% of sex workers and 33% of lorry drivers were HIV+. 14% of blood donors and 15% of antenatal clinic attendees in major urban centres including Kampala, Masaka, jinja and Mbarara were also HIV+.
In response to these findings, the NRM government, assisted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), formed the National Committee for the Prevention of AIDS. In 1992, the office of the president, following a statute of parliament, formed a special unit - Uganda Aids Commission(UAC). UAC is responsible for ensuring a focused and harmonized national response to HIV/AIDS throughout the country.
To date, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has caused 35 million deaths worldwide, while 34 million individuals currently live with HIV. UNAIDS - the United Nations agency responsible for AIDS, reported in 2018 that 1,400,000 people were living with HIV with 53,000 new infections and 23,000 deaths from “AIDS-related illness.”
770,000 9about 59%) of those with HIV are women. In 2013, the United nations introduced the 90-90-90 strategy. The idea was that by the end of this 20th year of this century, 90% of those with HIV will be diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed will be on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and that 90% of those on ARV treatment will have viral suppression.
Today, out of 1,400,00 HIV cases in Uganda, 1,200,000 are on ARV treatment. This ambitious 90-90-90 program was adopted by Uganda AIDS Commission and with the guidance of president Museveni modified to totally eradicate new HIV infections in Uganda by 2030.
This Ugandan campaign is dubbed ‘End AIDS Uganda by 2030” - #EndAIDS2030UG. To this end, and as part of monitoring efforts to End AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, Uganda AIDS Commission is on the 26th and 27th days of this month convening its annual Joint AIDS Review.
This Review will bring together AIDS development partners such as UNAIDS, networks of people Living with HIV, Civil Society, Cultural and religious leaders. The theme is ‘Ending AIDS: Leaving No one behind.”
To follow proceedings, I urge each of us to register on www.jar.verizondevlink.org.