Reference: New Vision, 15 June 2015, Page 10
To many Ugandans, HIV/AIDS has become a ‘normal’ disease. In fact, a story is told of a fishing community in Uganda who revealed to researchers that they fear pregnancy more than HIV. The shock factor that the disease had in the 90s is waning. This can probably be attributed to the strides made in fighting the disease, with interventions such as counseling, testing and anti-retroviral therapy, giving hope to many.
However, the fact remains that HIV is still a major health challenge for the country, with the national prevalence rate standing at 7.3%, those living with the virus at 1.6 million and deaths at 61,000. These are not small figures.
That is why when an article about a district like Mukono facing shortage of HIV testing kits, is treated as a brief, one wonders if we are letting our guards down. The article quotes the district health officer, Dr Elly Tumushabe, revealing that in addition to the shortage of testing kits, Mukono also suffers from poor record keeping on HIV/AIDS, data discrepancies and late initiation of HIV-pregnant mothers to ARV treatment.
Mukono’s battle with HIV is not new. In a New Vision report in 2013, Dr Tumushabe said Mukono has the-most-at-risk population to HIV basing on its prevalence rate of 9 per cent. He noted that reduced investment in HIV prevention measures was to blame for the high prevalence. In 2014, the Daily Monitor, published a special feature of how HIV/AIDs had ravaged Takajunge village in Mukono, leaving poverty-ridden widows and orphans in its wake.
Last month, Mukono leaders proposed mandatory testing for all housemaids, in yet another initiative aimed at reducing the disease burden in the district.
These scenarios point to the reality of HIV/AIDS in Mukono and by extension, the country. That’s why, in treating the story about shortage of HIV testing kits, more prominence and detail should have been given.
Here are some questions to be asked to deepen the reporting:
- What is the human impact of this shortage? Who is most affected and what are their stories? What options are available to those affected? What are the financial and human costs incurred?
- What institutions are responsible for prevention of supply stock-outs? Who is in charge of these institutions and who holds them accountable? What health facilities that dispense HIV rapid test kits are most vulnerable to stock-outs and why? To whom are they answerable?
- What are the weaknesses in the HIV kits and ARV supply chain systems? Who is responsible for this? What is being done to rectify it?
- What is being done to create a unified and functional tracking system on stocks and distribution of ARVs and testing kits? How is it funded? Who is involved? How might this change the lives of those living with HIV?
After more than 30 years of Ugandans living with the reality of HIV/AIDS, the media and the public are suffering AIDS fatigue. Ignoring the problem, unfortunately, will not make it go away. Journalists should still move beyond rote reporting of statistics to analyse the systemic policy and public sector challenges in dealing with HIV/AIDS, the human cost of failure and what is being done to hold those in positions of power to account.