Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) Training in Gulu City
Gulu Media Science Café on HIV/AIDS Held at Palema Crown Hotel in Gulu City on 24th March 2023.
The Health Café:
On Friday, 24th March 2023, the Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) held a one-day health media café at Palema Crown Hotel in Pece-Laroo division in Gulu City.
The engagement started at 8:00 a.m. and went through until 3:00 p.m.
The café was attended by 20 journalists from different media houses within Gulu City. It discussed and highlighted the HIV/AIDS situation in the Mid-North Region, especially among HIV positive patients who are experience sexual gender based violence in post-conflict northern Uganda and how the situation can be addressed
The Mid-North region as per the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) work plan contains the Acholi and Lango sub-regions.
The café was attended by experts in HIV/AIDS- medical doctors, trauma counselors, a survivor of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
➢ Victor Rwengabo -The UAC Mid-North Zonal Coordinator.
➢ Dr. Beatrice Acan -The Greater Gulu HIV/AIDS Focal Person.
➢ Babra Amaro -A war victim, positive living mother, and survivor of SGBV.
➢ Pamela Abonyo -Social Worker/ counselor.
The engagement started with a word of prayer led by Michael Ojok, a journalist from Favour of God, and was later preceded by an introduction of all participants.
The session was moderated by John ken Okot from the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC).
|1||Emmy Daniel Ojara||Speak Fm|
|2||John Ken Okot||NUMEC|
|3||Ivan Toolit||Mega Fm|
|5||Jesse Johnson James||Radio Rupiny|
|6||Patrick Uma||Chimp Reports|
|7||Wilfred Okot||The Ankole Times|
|8||Okumu Livingstone Langol||BlackStar News|
|9||Job Ronny Okot||NBS TV|
|10||Rose Mary Anena||Radio Pacis|
|11||Michael Ojok||Favor Fm|
|12||Teddy Doktho||Daily Monitor|
|13||Christopher Oola||Mega Fm|
|15||Okot Lil Romeo||TND News|
|16||Tracy Aciro||Mega Fm|
|17||Jimmy Komakech||Radio Pacis|
|18||Susan Atoo||Speak Fm|
|20||Tonny Bulalu||Calvary Fm|
John Okot highlighted the reasons for the engagement and what was required from the participants and the panelists.
Among them was equipping the journalists with knowledge on the HIV/AIDS situation in the Northern Region, the state of SGBV survivors who are living with HIV/AIDS after the LRA insurgency, the role of the ministry of health in fighting stigma and health issues in the post-war era.
He also noted that the engagement seeks to help journalists and editors to develop story ideas on HIV/AIDS and how such matters can be reported well.
Presentations by Victor Rwengabo:
The first presentation was made by Mr. Victor Rwengabo, the Mid-North Coordinator Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) on the HIV/AIDS situation in the Northern Region, preventive mechanisms in place, and the roles of different stakeholders in combating it.
Rwengabo said that Uganda`s HIV epidemic is severe and most common among youth and adults between 16 years and 64 years. He noted these categories are considered sexually active.
He explained that as of December 2021, an estimated 1.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, compared to 1.3 million in 2010.
He also said that new HIV infections have declined over the past decade, but, noted that the magnitude is still very high.
According to him, in 2010 there were 88,000 new infections recorded while in 2021 it was at 54,000, indicating a 39% decrease.
The decrease has been attributed to the multi-sectoral responses in combating the virus.
The statistics he presented however showed that there are still 1,100 new HIV infections being registered weekly. 64% of them are female while 36% are male. The majority are young people between 15 and 24 years.
Overall HIV Prevalence as Presented by Victor Rwengabo
➢ 1.4 million people living with HIV.
➢ 5.5% Estimated HIV Prevalence in Uganda among adults 15-49 years.
➢ 54,000 annual new infections.
➢ 17,000 AIDS-related deaths.
➢ Kalangala district registered the highest number of HIV cases with 18.8%.
➢ Nabilatuk district registered the lowest HIV cases with 0.2%.
In the Mid-North Region
Rwengabo pointed out that Gulu and Lira are among the 31 districts out of 146 which contributed 60% of the new infections.
Gender and HIV in Uganda
➢ More women are living with HIV.
➢ Adults aged 16 to 64 constitute 5.5% of those living with HIV.
➢ 7.1% of women in the Mid-North Region are living with HIV.
➢ 3.8% of men in the Mid-North Region are living with HIV.
It was noted that HIV infections are more among female adolescents as noted in the Mid-North Region due to;
➢ Poor access to information and skills on HIV prevention.
➢ Young girls are always left out of critical HIV-related matters.
➢ Early sexual debut, multiple sexual partners, peer pressure.
➢ Gender equality, intimate partner violence, and harmful traditional practices which give privilege to men.
➢ Biological, social and cultural factors.
➢ Constraints in access to resources and opportunities and decision making, for example, condom use is decided on by the male partner.
➢ Lack of power by females to control their sexuality.
➢ Fear of violence hence keeping quiet.
➢ Fear of GBV and previous experiences.
Rwengabo told the journalists that in order to curtail the alarming figures, the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) and partners a lot of interventions have been established.
Among them are;
➢ The provision of Post Exposure Pills (PEP), targets victims of sexual violence and abuses such as rape and defilement.
➢ Effective counseling of victims and survivors.
➢ Promotion and emphasizing the use of condoms.
➢ Enhancing Information and Communication (IEC).
➢ Training of stop ‘’GBV champions across the districts to create awareness on GBV, referral pathways, and follow-ups of survivors.
➢ Training of health workers and building capacities of civil society organizations and Village Health Teams (VHTs) on managing and preventing HIV.
During the engagement, the Uganda Aids Commission also pointed out key challenges which Rwengabo says are affecting the responses to and prevention of HIV in the region and nationally.
➢ Inadequate integration of GBV, HIV, and Sexual Reproductive Health services in the different departments.
➢ Inadequate implementation of laws and policies related to GBV notably the Domestic Violence Act.
➢ Socio-cultural pressure leading to the abandonment of cases by female spouses.
➢ Poorly facilitated police and health workers who demand money to handle GBV cases.
➢ Human Resource shortage.
➢ Political interference (mediation of matters escalating HIV and GBV).
➢ Issues with police form 3 (takes a long time hence undermining the efficiency of PEP).
➢ Family negotiations with perpetrators spreading HIV through sexual abuse.
➢ Lack of money for transport by victims who intend to seek emergency care against HIV infection.
➢ Limited male involvement and perception of fighting against HIV and GBV.
➢ Lack/of or drug stock-outs in public health facilities hence undermining emergency prevention.
➢ Lack of critical medical supplies.
➢ Paying attention to perpetrators of GBV than victims.
➢ High level of stigma.
➢ Absenteeism and late reporting to work by health workers to health facilities.
The journalists also had a section to interact with Rwengabo by asking questions and making comments;
➢ Daniel Ojara of Speak Fm asked why HIV is higher in Northern Region than the national figure.
➢ Susan Atoo of Speak Fm wondered why more females are infected than males.
➢ Okumu Livingstone Langol of Black Star News also asked how cultural setups can be used to prevent HIV.
➢ Susan Atoo also asked if Uganda Aids Commission has established plans for mandatory HIV testing.
➢ Jesse Johnson James of Radio Rupiny noted that there is still a challenge with involving PWDs especially those with hearing impairments in the prevention of HIV.
➢ Jesse also asked whether there are policies to protect those with HIV and mitigate the spread at institutions.
In response, Rwengabo attributed the high cases of HIV in Gulu and Mid-North region to multiple sexual partners in the area.
He also tagged the high prevalence of social cultural issues which among them is inheritance, early marriages, and male superiority in a marriage.
Rwengabo also said that the low rates of safe male circumcision among the Acholi community are contributing to the high prevalence.
He also added that the post-conflict led to the emergence of street children, know as ‘aguu’, amid high poverty levels which also contributed to the rise of sexual offenders.
The other factor attributed to the high HIV prevalence rate in Gulu which he named was also urbanization which led to the influx of sex workers or pleasant consultants.
The next presentation was made by Doctor Beatrice Acan, the Greater Gulu HIV/AIDS Focal Person.
Dr. Acan took journalists through the different interventions by the ministry of health in preventing the spread of HIV, and the challenges being experienced and called on all stakeholders including the media to enhance a consorted effort in the fight against HIV.
Dr. Acan identified that Gulu has the highest number of HIV cases in the Mid-north due to the influx of sex workers (pleasant workers), those at high risk such as truck drivers, the media, politicians, and government employees among others.)
Challenges in Managing HIV among sexual gender based violence victims.
➢ Dr. Acan said that they are still having problems with late reporting for health care services by victims of sexual abuse.
➢ She added also said that the police take a long time in examining victims of sexual abuse hence prolonging their responses to seeking health services.
➢ She added that people lack knowledge concerning what do first after a person has been sexually abused .
➢ Dr. Acan also noted that health facilities lack effective drugs used for first-line treatment of HIV.
➢ She also noted that Tuberculosis disease (TB) is the leading cause of HIV/AIDS-related deaths yet people do not pay keen attention to it.
➢ Poor facilitation, noting that a health worker receives only 50,000 shillings from the court to respond to a sexual violence case.
➢ Stigma and discrimination especially of victims of the LRA insurgency adding that they suffer Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) that forced some of them to abandon treatment.
➢ Communication gaps especially female sexual gender based violence victims on how to live with HIV or prevent it upon being sexually abused.
➢High cases of HIV rate among homeless youths known as ‘aguu’ who were neglected by the parents since the time of the war and are living on the streets
➢There is need for stop-centres where sexual gender based survivors with HIV can access intant support in case there need for help. This would cater for those living in far-flung places.
To ensure effective prevention of HIV/AIDS in the Gulu area, Dr. Acan told journalists that a number of measures have been put in place and they include;
➢ The provision of PEP at all lower health units to ensure quick response to victims of sexual violence.
She explained that PEP should be given between 12 and 24 hours for effective response to preventing HIV transmission.
➢ Dr. Acan also said that they are providing STI pills to victims of sexual violence to prevent the spread since they come hand in hand with HIV.
➢ Trainings targeting discordant partners, those at high risk on how to protect themselves and prevent the transmission of HIV.
➢ In regards to drug stockouts from health facilities, Dr. Acan says that they always use the available resources.
➢ She noted that they are also working with partners, and stakeholders such as schools, cultural institutions, and parents to develop HIV workplace policy in order to prevent stigma and create conducive workspaces for persons living with HIV.
➢ In Gulu, a drive to link up with the Parents Teachers` Associations (PTA) has also been initiated in order to instill moral upbringing in children, avoid bad peer groups, live Godly lifestyles, and health-centered education in learning institutions.
➢ Dr. Acan noted that they are focusing on the six thematic areas of prevention, care, treatment, psychosocial support system, evaluation, and research in order to mitigate HIV transmission.
➢ She added that as the national vision requires, in Greater Gulu, they have also scaled up the 90-90-90 strategy of HIV/AIDS testing, prevention, and treatment to 95-95-95.
➢ According to Dr. Acan, they want the population to know their status, those positive to enroll in ART adhere to it and those positive have their viral loads suppressed until when they cannot infect other people.
Dr. Acan told the journalists that they play key roles in the fight against and prevention of HIV through their medium of communication in order to end HIV by 2030.
She advocated for;
➢ Increased advocacy for HIV patients to get support.
➢ Advocacy for Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) as a preventive measure.
➢ Psychosocial support for survivors of SGBV.
➢ Intensive counseling with psychosocial support for victims of the LRA insurgency.
➢ Protection of adolescent girls since they fall for money hence being abused and infected with HIV.
➢ Advocating for healthy lifestyles, especially for men since one man can infect up to ten women in a day.
➢ Ensuring institutional effectiveness for well-coordinated responses.
➢ Eliminating mother-to-child transmission.
➢ Implementation of test and treat strategy.
➢ Addressing financing sustainability for HIV responses.
Babra Lamaro, a 26-year-old single mother of two who is living positively with HIV and victim of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) also shared her experience with the journalists.
Lamaro said that she was raped while 16 years old, got infected with HIV, and was later enrolled on ART.
Lamaro`s child also got infected and has been enrolled in ART. At that time, she was living under the care of her grandmother in Palegnga in the Omoro district during the peak of the LRA insurgency, but, was expelled from home following the incident.
Lamaro currently resides in Gulu City and got engaged but was later abandoned by her lover who realized that she is positive for HIV.
Early this year, Lamaro was assaulted by two men from her rented place of abode allegedly for being positive, after her affair with one of them turned sour.
Her ART drugs were looted during the assault, and her son noticed her status and is now suffering abuse from his colleagues at school.
He has abandoned drugs following the incident.
Lamaro is currently struggling for justice and treatment for herself and her son. Police have failed to investigate the matter of assault which was reported at Aywee Police Post in Pece-Laroo division in Gulu City under Sd Ref:12/14/03/2023.
Palema Abonyo, a social worker who is helping Lamaro seeks justice says that such cases are rampant in Gulu City.
She explained that many women living positively with HIV are abused, assaulted by their lovers, and denied access to justice by the police.
After the whole presentation, journalists developed ideas on HIV-related preventive measures which they pledged to follow up for their different newsrooms.
The story ideas include;
➢ Patrick Uma of Chimp Reports said that he will follow up on why TB is still the major killer among people living with HIV and why it is prevention is still a challenge.
➢ Okumu Langol Livingstone of Black Star News says he will implore how journalists can help the vulnerable society access preventive care for HIV.
➢ Okumu added that he will also use his different media platforms to increase advocacy for funding HIV prevention-related activities.
➢ Michael Ojok of Favor FM said that he will carry out an investigation to evaluate the efforts of NGOs and the government in fighting HIV yet it is still high.
➢ Ojok also wants to understand the key drivers contributing to the high prevalence of HIV in Gulu.
➢ Walter Kumira, a freelance journalist said that he will undertake a story on how children can be protected from sexual abuse and homosexuality which is on the rise.
➢ Okot Lil Romeo of TND News said that he will find out how alcohol-stricken families can be assisted since alcohol is the leading factor for irresponsibility among parents and guardians.
➢ Dr. Beatrice Acan, the HIV Focal Person for Gulu also implored the journalists to woo local leaders to develop a by-law on alcohol abuse.
➢ Jesse John James of Radio Rupiny said that he will investigate the efforts being made by the different stakeholders to curb HIV prevalence in the Acholi sub-region.
➢ He also wants to find out who is the loss to trace persons living with HIV and how they can be assisted.
➢ Jesse also wants to find out how poor diet is pushing clients from ART therapy.
➢ Jesse also wants to find out how long distance is preventing mothers from accessing ANT since it is crucial for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
➢ Jesse will also find out how the use of pseudo names of PWDs is hampering the fight against HIV prevalence in Acholi.
➢ Jimmy Komakech of Radio Pacis says he will find out about the situation of single mothers living with HIV, and where they get their support from.
➢ Christopher Nyeko of UG-Report says he will find out the cost of accessing HIV preventive measures by those in rural and remote areas.
➢ Nyeko is also interested in understanding the contribution of VHTs in curbing HIV.
John Okot, who guided the engagement said that the journalists will be followed up and assisted to pursue their stories.
Report by compiled by Ojara Emmy Danile Comboni (0776456208)