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Uganda's anti-AIDS program under new fire after Global Fund suspension
Mon Aug 29, 2:54 PM ET - AFP
Less than a week after losing millions of dollars in grants over alleged financial mismanagement, Uganda's anti-AIDS program has come under new criticism with a US group alleging the country faces a massive condom shortage.
Just days after The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria temporarily froze 201 million dollars (163 million euros) in assistance to Uganda, the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) accused Kampala of playing politics and religion in its fight against the killer disease.
In a statement received here Monday, CHANGE said the once-hailed Ugandan anti-AIDS effort was being hijacked by religious conservatives intent on eliminating condom use from its heretofore successful programs.
This, it said, had led to a severe shortage of prophylactics in the country and threatened to reverse gains made in reducing HIV infection rates, a warning similar to one issued earlier this year by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"Condoms have become difficult to find in cities, even for a price, and are unavailable in many rural areas," CHANGE said.
It said Uganda needs between 120 and 150 million condoms per year to meet basic HIV prevention needs but that thus far this year fewer than 30 million had been made available "and these are now gone."
"Reports indicate that in some areas, including those with large numbers of internally displaced persons, people desperate to prevent HIV infection have begun using garbage bags as condom substitutes," CHANGE said.
The charges were immediately denied by the Ugandan health ministry which accused the group of spreading rumors to hurt the country's image still reeling from the Global Fund's announcement of the grant suspension on Wednesday.
"We have enough condoms," minister of state for health Mike Mukula told the Daily Monitor newspaper. "That there is a condom shortage in the country is just a rumor by people who want to spoil the image of this country."
Despite the denial, the CHANGE statement echoed many of the concerns outlined by Human Rights Watch that warned Uganda's AIDS prevention programs were at risk because the country was increasingly deferring to new abstinence-only programs promoted by President George W. Bush's conservative administration.
"The crisis in Uganda has been created by the actions -- and inaction -- of the government of Uganda and the Bush administration, the primary donor for HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda," CHANGE said.
In March, Human Rights Watch said Ugandan authorities had, under pressure from Washington, in October 2004 changed the focus of its successful "ABC" -- "Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms" -- program to eliminate the "C."
ABC is credited with helping Uganda reduce HIV prevalence from as high as 30 percent in the 1990s to about six percent today, but Human Rights Watch said under a US-backed "AB" scheme, the gains could be lost.
Uganda says no condom crisis but abstinence is best
Tue Aug 30, 2005 10:40 AM ET
By Frank Nyakairu
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda on Tuesday dismissed U.N. claims that an emphasis on U.S.-promoted abstinence-only programs to fight HIV/AIDS had created a "condom crisis."
Stephen Lewis, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said on Monday that Christian ideology was driving Washington's AIDS assistance program known as PEPFAR with disastrous results such as a Ugandan condom shortage.
Uganda's junior health minister Mike Mukula also denied reported claims by activists in Uganda and the United States that the emphasis on abstinence-only programs had left his country in the grip of a condom shortage so severe that men are using garbage bags in an effort to protect themselves.
"That is not true at all. Our policy is to maintain the ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful and use Condoms) policy which actually helped Uganda to reduce the AIDS prevalence rates," Mukula said in a telephone interview. "The three strategies have always carried the same weight."
Uganda had been praised for cutting HIV infection rates to around 6 percent today from 30 percent in the early 1990s, a rare success story in Africa's battle against the disease.
But President Yoweri Museveni's government has been criticized for what activists say is a reduction in the number of free condoms available due to pressure from Washington through the PEPFAR program.
As part of President George W. Bush's global AIDS plan, the U.S. government has already budgeted about $8 million this year for abstinence-only projects in Uganda, human rights groups say.
"There is no question in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administration in the U.S. is now pursuing in the emphasis on abstinence," Lewis told journalists on a teleconference on Monday.
Mukula said the government was "aware that there are people who will have to use condoms like prostitutes, discontent couples and sexually active teenagers."
Uganda plans to provide condom vending machines in the capital Kampala, where condom use had increased from 33 percent in 1999 to 76 per cent in 2002, Mukula said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Museveni's wife Janet -- a strong supporter of abstinence who hosted several hundred virgins last year -- and charities close to her had received U.S. funds.
Museveni angered AIDS campaigners when he said in July 2004 that abstinence and faithful relationships should come before condom use.