Grassroots Efforts in Uganda Successful in Slowing Epidemic
In Uganda, once considered the "epicenter" of the global AIDS epidemic, HIV infection rates are dropping due to grassroots efforts aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The rate of infection is decreasing in "almost all segments of the population." Among adults ages 15 to 49, the overall infection rate is currently 8.3%, less than half the rate in South Africa, and the infection rate among pregnant women attending prenatal clinics dropped from 31% in 1990 to 14% in 1998. The rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where 80% of the world's AIDS deaths occurred in 1999, has taken notice. "People from all parts of Africa are coming here to take a lead from us," said Elly Sendi, a senior counselor at The AIDS Support Organization in Kampala, where officials arrive weekly for advice.
Turning the Tide
Uganda has used public and private action to help quell the epidemic. First and foremost among activists is President Yoweri Museveni, who has mentioned of AIDS in every speech he has made over the last decade. A nationwide network of "strong, community-based organizations" has been "equally important," the Journal-Constitution reports. Organizations such as TASO and the Christian Initiative for Social Action and Development, a Kampala group that has met for several years, help to find ways to stem the spread of HIV and to take care of the growing number of orphans left by the disease. Eleonore Seumo Fosso, a health official working in Uganda for CARE USA, said that getting the community involved is an effective prevention method because messages "delivered by one's neighbors -- spoken in one's own dialect and with deference to one's particular culture" -- are more effective than messages delivered "from on high." Community members have "more standing" than outsiders when questioning and re-examining long-standing cultural practices, she added. Activists are pleased by the success of their initiatives, but are not planning to let up in their efforts. They believe any "relax[ation]" on their part would allow the rates to "soar again" (Melvin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/7).