Uganda, 20 June 2012 (PlusNews) - Uganda's Ministry of Health will enrol 100,000 more people infected with HIV on life-prolonging antiretroviral treatment (ART) in the 2012/13 financial year, Minister of Finance Maria Kiwanuka announced in her budget speech on 14 June.
The Ministry of Health estimates that about 57 percent of the 600,000 people who need treatment have access to it. Uganda's HIV prevalence has risen from 6.4 percent to 6.7 percent in the past five years.
Kiwanuka said the government would continue to mitigate the effects of HIV by promoting prevention strategies such as abstinence, being faithful, and condom use, as well as voluntary medical male circumcision and the elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission.
However, HIV activists say putting 100,000 additional people on treatment while more become infected may not have much impact on slowing the epidemic. They are calling on the government to ensure access to ART for all who need it, and reduce donor-dependence in HIV programmes.
"If we are to achieve universal access to ART, let the government plan for all those who are eligible to be put on it," said Stella Kentutsi, the executive director of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU). "The government should focus on mobilizing its funds for treatment… as it has been proved as a method of reducing new infections."
Dr Cissy Kityo, the deputy executive director of the Uganda Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), pointed out that "In order for us to achieve universal access, we need to have more accredited facilities to provide the ART services, avoid antiretroviral drug stock-outs, train people to provide ARVs, and have more people coming out to test and access the services."
The acting programme manager of the AIDS Control Programme in the Ministry of Health, Dr Joshua Musinguzi, told IRIN/PlusNews, "We would want to put everybody who is due on ART. However, the high cost of intervention, inadequate health manpower and equipment like CD4 count machines, is affecting our plan for universal access to ART. We shall keep recruiting 100,000 people per year on ART - our target is to achieve 80 percent."
Activists also decried a drop in overall health spending in this budget, despite the finance minister’s pledge to motivate and retain health workers, and address poor child and maternal health, among other things.
"The health sector was only allocated 752 billion shillings [about US$307 million] in the government expenditure for 2012/13 financial year, compared to 804 billion [about $328 million] in the 2011/12 financial year," said Florence Buluba, the executive director of the National Community of Women Living with AIDS. "Instead of the health budget being increased to address the management, treatment, care and support of the HIV-infected and -affected populations, it continues to be reduced."