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International News
HIV/AIDS Prevalence in Northern Uganda Almost Double National Average Because of Conflict, Rape as Weapon of War

September 28, 2004

The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Northern Uganda is nearly twice as high as the national average and is continuing to increase because of a "brutal" conflict in the region and the use of rape as a weapon of war, according to a World Vision report released Monday, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. The Lord's Resistance Army -- a rebel group -- is carrying on an 18-year rebellion in the region in an attempt to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni. However, the army "mostly attacks civilians to steal food and abduct children for use as fighters, laborers or sex slaves," according to the AP/Yahoo! News. More than 1.6 million people have been displaced in an attempt to flee attacks from LRA (Muleme, AP/Yahoo! News, 9/27). According to the report, titled "Pawns of Politics: Children, Conflict and Peace in Northern Uganda," the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Northern Uganda is 11.9% and rising. In the Gulu district, the center of the conflict, AIDS-related causes accounted for 69% of all deaths -- threefold the proportion of casualties due to military confrontations, Reuters reports. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate nationwide is 6.2% and is declining.

Losing Ground?
Although Uganda has received "international acclaim" for reducing its national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate from approximately 30% a decade ago, the country "could see many of those gains evaporate if the war [is] not brought to an end," according to the report. Widespread displacement, poverty, use of rape as a weapon of war and a lack of a health care infrastructure all have contributed to increasing HIV/AIDS prevalence in Northern Uganda. Approximately 80% of the region's population live in "squalid camps," where up to 21% of children are malnourished and as many as 15,000 people use a single water source, Reuters reports. Residents also cannot access information about HIV/AIDS prevention or receive testing and treatment because of the "virtual collapse" of the region's health care system, according to Reuters (Wallis, Reuters, 9/27). Moreover, approximately 50% of girls who escape from LRA captivity test HIV-positive, according to BBC News. "If these girls make it back from the bush, they are sometimes rejected and abandoned by their families," the report says, adding that they often are forced to engage in "survival" commercial sex work that involves high-risk behaviors that can increase the spread of the virus (BBC News, 9/27). Any post-conflict plans must include counseling and community-reintegration initiatives for girls who "were victims of sexual bondage," the report says, according to Reuters (Reuters, 9/27). "Turning the corner will require cooperation at the local level, at the national level in both Uganda and Sudan, and concerted action from the international community. There is no time to lose," according to the report (World Vision release, 9/25).

Condoms "Useless" to Prevent Some STDs, First Lady Says
Condoms are "useless" in the prevention of certain sexually transmitted diseases, including human papillomavirus, Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni said on Saturday, New Vision/ reports. During a Uganda Youth Forum meeting with incoming Makerere University students, Museveni "expressed frustration" with individuals who "discourage" abstinence-only HIV and STD prevention methods, according to New Vision/ "It is a pity that some people, especially donors, have been discouraging or soft peddling abstinence, arguing that it is unrealistic, especially with the African male sexual urges," she said, adding, "In a way, they are reducing the youth to mere animals." Prevention methods that promote condom use give "vague messages" and youth should "heed their parents' advice on sex and sexuality issues," Museveni said, according to New Vision/ She added that "people should start rediscovering their cultural norms that emphasize purity," according to New Vision/ (Mugisa, New Vision/, 9/27).

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