Researchers move to curb spread of HIV/ AIDS in Masaka

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Researchers move to curb spread of  HIV/ AIDS in Masaka
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Medical research practitioners are introducing new modalities to support existing HIV/AIDS preventive measures.

The innovation was revealed by medical research professionals during a Science Café in Masaka City, organized by the Health Journalists Network of Uganda, to improve public awareness concerning health issues.

Dr. Jonathan Kitonsa from the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute (MRC/UVRI) disclosed that these additional measures will supplement existing methods like condoms, circumcision, and being faithful.

The new modalities include the vaginal ring, found to be about 50% effective when used appropriately, oral PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) pills for high-risk individuals, and injectable treatments that address adherence issues with oral medications and reduce stigma.

“In Uganda, we’ve been discussing combination packages with various methods, but we now recommend initiating high-risk individuals on PrEP to prevent them from acquiring HIV/AIDS. The idea is that they continue taking these pills for as long as they remain at risk. The vaginal ring and the injectable treatment, administered every two months after an initial four-week dose, have undergone research and regulatory approval,” Dr. Kitonsa explained.

He emphasized the importance of making these new methods available in health facilities to overcome the low uptake of existing methods due to stigma and misinformation. Dr. Kitonsa also highlighted the high prevalence of HIV in prisons and called for government action to extend these measures to prisoners.

HIV/AIDS remains a significant burden in Masaka sub-region and Uganda, with a prevalence of 5.5% among adults aged 15-49, 7.1% among females, and 3.8% among males. According to a UNAIDS report from 2020, at least 570 young women aged 15-24 acquire HIV/AIDS every week in Uganda. Despite the inclusion of oral PrEP in the combination HIV prevention strategy, new infections remain unacceptably high.

Uganda’s HIV combination prevention strategy includes structural, behavioral, and biomedical interventions, now incorporating ARV drugs for HIV-negative individuals to prevent HIV acquisition before exposure.

Dr. Faith Nakiyimba, the Masaka District Medical Officer, noted the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Masaka due to the influx of people from neighboring districts and its status as an entertainment hub. She said PrEP would help address the high-risk exposure. The Science Café aimed to enhance journalists' skills in public health awareness and emphasize existing methods.

“All our hospitals now offer PrEP, along with private clinics and counseling, but dropout rates remain a challenge,” Dr. Nakiyimba said.

Mr. Malik Fahad Jingo, coordinator for the Health Journalists Network in Uganda, stressed the ongoing challenge of misinformation and the role of journalists in conveying accurate information from researchers to the public.

“The public will be equipped with the information needed to make informed decisions, helping our country achieve a generation free from HIV/AIDS by 2030."

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