Saturday, July 21, 2012

HIV and UVP: Healthy Village Teams work to combat HIV in Iganga

By Gwendolyn Wernersbach 

HIV rates in sub Saharan African remain a major public health concern globally.  Uganda in particular is considered by many to be among the world's earliest and most compelling national success stories when it comes to combating the spread of HIV.  In recent years, Uganda experienced a decline in HIV prevalence, however, new reports show that the HIV prevalence rate has increased slightly, and that women are disproportionately affected compared to men.    

The HIV prevalence rate in Iganga is estimated to be higher than the national average by about eight percent.  Rural populations are most affected, as access to HIV testing, counseling and treatment are more difficult to come by in remote areas.  According to the Ugandan Ministry of Health, 85% of the population of Uganda does not know their HIV status, which demonstrates the impact and importance of these services.  Access to HIV counseling and testing is compounded by the fact that AIDS-related stigma and discrimination remains the single most important barrier when it comes to behavior change and public action. 

The Uganda Village Project (UVP) is helping to combat rates of HIV in rural areas of the Iganga district by providing HIV counseling and testing services through our Healthy Villages Team program.  The Village Health Teams work with local partners, including St. Mary’s, to conduct culturally appropriate outreach activities to educate communities about basic HIV prevention methods, and often incorporate dance, drama and music performances in to their messaging.  Additionally, UVP is actively involved with distributing condoms in collaboration with partner NGOs, and also administers voluntary HIV testing for villagers as a way to eliminate fear, stigma, or costs associated with travel to a clinic. 

Meet our friend Naigaga Sarah of the Nabitovu village.  Naigaga Sarah is a 34-year old mother of three children, and a proud member of the UVP Nabitovu Village Health team.  She is pictured below holding her youngest child as she waits to speak with the counselor about her results following a routine HIV test. 
Naigaga Sarah comes from a polygamous marriage, she is wife number three and the youngest wife in the home.  "We all came to test today," she said smiling.

"Since Uganda Village Project came into the village, my co-wives, my husband and myself have been testing for HIV at least once and sometimes twice every year.  As a Village Health Team member I encourage others to come for testing and mobilize the village for the HIV education sessions as well. I am happy for the opportunity Uganda Village Project and their donors have given us, by bringing testing right to the village level.  They test at the health centre as well, but it is far and walking there can sometimes be tiresome, therefore bringing testing to us is good and we are grateful."

In 2011, 1,421 HIV tests were administered in nine villages.  So far this year, as of July 2012, 1,623 HIV tests have been administered in eleven villages.  For those that test positive, they are referred to The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), their closest health center, or Iganga district hospital for follow up care and treatment.    

In these ways and many more, UVP is helping to reverse the trend of HIV in Iganga district.  We can only continue to do this important work through your help, generosity and support.  Learn more about how you can make a difference by supporting UVP’s HIV prevention efforts in Iganga here.   

Gwen is passionate about global public health and humanitarian relief efforts, both domestically and internationally. She has worked in the areas of HIV prevention, refugee health, nutrition, fitness, water and sanitation projects, and public health emergency preparedness. Gwen has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, and holds an MPH from Emory University in Atlanta. She currently works with the American Red Cross and serves on the board as a Member At Large for UVP. 

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