Public Policy & Advocacy: Conference Focused on Ending Pediatric HIV and AIDS in Uganda
Last week in Kampala, more than 500 people gathered to discuss our shared mission to realize a generation free of HIV and AIDS in Uganda.
The 6th National Pediatric HIV and AIDS Conference was held from September 12-14, with the theme “Overcoming pediatric HIV: An achievable challenge in partnership.”
It was comprised of various interactive sessions where participants shared information on children and HIV, lessons learnt, best practices, and existing challenges.
The First Lady of Uganda, the Hon. Janet Kataka Museveni, echoed the conference theme during her remarks at the opening ceremony: “If elimination-of-mother-to-child-transmission-of-HIV objectives are to be achieved, there is need for strong partnerships with joint efforts,” she said.
A champion for efforts to offend mother-to-child transmission, First Lady Museveni emphasized several key factors necessary to achieve this goal in Uganda:
- Total commitment from various stakeholders;
- Universal access to essential medicine for all;
- Harnessing service delivery systems; and
- Advocacy initiatives within the community to implement Option B+ for the health of the mother and to prevent mother-to-child transmission
At the end of her address, the First Lady launched a policy analysis report prepared for the Ministry of Health by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in partnership with George Washington University in Washington, D.C. – and with support from The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and ViiV Healthcare.
This project was designed to inform the Ministry’s development of a national plan for elimination of pediatric HIV while identifying specific areas for support. The report highlights key findings in addressing the potential legal, policy, regulatory, administrative, and financial barriers and facilitators to achieving this goal.
The report was presented to members of the conference by Dr. Edward Bitarakwate, EGPAF’s Country Director for Uganda, and Dr. Christian Pitter, EGPAF’s Senior Director of Global and Technical Policy. Key findings mainly pointed to the need for greater advocacy at all levels.
One example of a powerful advocate – and one of the conference highlights – was eighteen-year-old EGPAF Foundation Ambassador Josephine Nabukenya, who spoke on behalf of HIV-positive children in Uganda. Josephine appealed to the government to do something about rape and defilement of young girls, and she also spoke about her own experiences living with HIV since birth.
“I am HIV-positive, but I am not shaken…that is why I am able to stand here and talk,” she said.
She attributed her good health to the availability of drugs, and urged all stakeholders present to reach out to HIV-positive young people in the rural areas who have no access to antiretroviral medicines.
In his speech, U.S. Ambassador Scott Delisi assured participants of U.S. support and commitment towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda.
“Much progress has been made. But committed leadership is essential. Our dream is that no mother buries her child and no child grows up without a mother,” he said.
By the end of the conference, participants agreed on the need for stronger partnerships and more commitment towards ending pediatric HIV/AIDS. Other recommendations included:
- Actively searching for HIV infected children;
- Enrolling and maintaining more children into care and treatment;
- Working with communities to end stigma; and
- Improving health worker skills to handle children
- Participants left Kampala with a renewed commitment and clearer direction to achieving a generation free of HIV and AIDS in Uganda.
Sanyu Nkiinzi Kagwa is the Foundation’s Communications & Outreach Officer for Uganda, based in Kampala.