Uganda

Deborah Nyantiok is 56 years old and lives with her grandchildren in Kaya, near the border of Uganda. She lost her husband during Sudan’s 20-year civil war and now takes care of her grandchildren. In order to pay for food and school fees, Deborah operates a small business and keeps animals to generate income. Despite her hard work, in the past Deborah found life difficult as she and her grandchildren often fell ill.

Lacking a source of clean drinking water, residents of Kaya gather drinking water from the nearby Kaya River. While the river provides vital irrigation which makes the surrounding land lush and green, unfortunately it also carries dangerous viruses and bacteria. These pathogens cause many waterborne ailments like typhoid, diarrhea, and parasitic diseases. Deborah and her grandchildren often suffered from these diseases, and while they sought medical treatment, it always seemed only a matter of time until their suffering returned.

Monday at the International AIDS Society conference in Rome, an expanded session featured information on the HPTN 052 study, the Partners PrEP Study, and the Centers for Disease Control’s TDF2 study presented in a joint session titled Treatment Is Prevention: The Proof Is Here, on Monday. The results of these trials will fundamentally change the way we think about HIV prevention and treatment, although implementation of these approaches will likely prove as challenging as ever.

HPTN 052, sponsored by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, was the first randomized clinical trial to definitively indicate that an HIV-infected individual can reduce sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner by beginning antiretroviral therapy sooner. The study involved 1,763 HIV-serodiscordant couples at 13 sites across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The trial results were initially released in May 2011 on the recommendation of an independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) and Monday’s session was the first full presentation of the trial data.

The theme of this year’s Global Health Council annual conference was Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World. As populations are shifting, so are their health priorities. Increasing urbanization has led to more people living in and around cities, creating a series of problems that are new to public health professionals. Nutritional challenges, the need for improved water and sanitation infrastructure, and addressing the issue of unregulated health care providers are all problems facing governments, ministries, NGOs, donors, and populations. In addition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and mental illness, are adding a new strain to many already resource constrained health systems. Of course, immunization, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and maternal death are all still very serious challenges in many of these systems and remain key priorities.

Over the course of the past ten days, I have been fortunate to visit the Central, Eastern, and Western Regions of Uganda.  As part of these visits, I have traveled through and spent time in many of the districts in these regions. It is during these drives through the countryside that I have noticed the campaigns for family planning services over and over again. Though it is possible my eye is fine tuned to notice these signs, as I am here supporting STRIDES for Family Health (a MSH-led, USAID funded family planning, reproductive health, and child and maternal health project), it would be hard for anyone to miss the cheerful rainbows that are posted on signs outside many of the health centers and hospitals indicating that family planning services are provided in that facility.

Signs promoting available family planning services in Uganda, March 2011.

 

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