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Free antiretroviral treatment helps women in conflict-affected Uganda

© UNICEF Uganda/2007/ Hyun
A child holds antiretroviral medicines obtained at the Lira Regional Referral Hospital’s HIV/AIDS Clinic in Lira Town, Uganda.

UNICEF’s yearly flagship report, 'The State of the World’s Children', launched 22 January 2008, makes a call to unite for child survival. Here is one in a series of related stories.

LIRA, Uganda, 5 May 2008 – Janet is 16 years old and living with HIV. She holds a photograph of herself taken in 2002, in which she appears gaunt and exhausted, wearing a light-blue dress that hangs loosely on her slight, bony frame.

Today, she is barely recognizable as the same girl. Janet is healthier because she receives regular antiretroviral treatment at the Lira Regional Referral Hospital in northern Uganda’s conflict-affected Lira District. She is also well enough to re-enrol in primary school after a two-year hiatus.

Yet times are not easy. The lack of adequate food sometimes makes it difficult to continue treatment, Janet explains, because some of the medicines need to be taken on a full stomach.

“I would always like to be able to have medicines in the right combination," she says, pointing out that when there is a shortage, she has no choice but to cut back on the prescribed dosage.

Partnering for community health

A partnership between the Lira Regional Referral Hospital and UNICEF allows antiretroviral drugs to be distributed at no cost to patients like Janet. In addition, regular home-based care is provided to approximately 300 families in the district by the National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda (NACWOLA).

Counsellors at NACWOLA refer patients to other organizations as needed, monitor their treatment and organize income-generating activities such as knitting. They also provide support to help orphaned and vulnerable children continue attending school.

There are currently more than 1 million people living with HIV in Uganda. Eleven per cent of them are children, who account for 16,000 of the 70,000 new infections each year.

During the first half of 2007, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and UNICEF collaborated to help more than 26,000 pregnant women in northern Uganda receive routine counselling and testing services. Approximately 20,000 young people aged 10-24, living in camps for people displaced by conflict, also were given access to voluntary counselling and testing.

Stories of hope

In another part of Lira District, Jacinta, 31, and her daughter Brenda, 10, are both in their third year of home-based antiretroviral treatment. Jacinta recalls that before starting treatment, Brenda spent her life in and out of the hospital.

"Brenda is picking up well and thriving in school,” Jacinta says.

Similarly, Mary, 25, who is several months pregnant, has registered with the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission programme at the Lira Regional Referral hospital. Her participation in this programme will substantially reduce the risk of her baby contracting HIV. 

Lira District offers several stories of HIV-affected families resuming the daily routines of their lives – all because of access to antiretroviral treatment, monitoring and care. 



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