Ugandan Minister: "Whatever we do we have to have sex"

The Uganda minister of state for health calls for greater investment in sexual and reproductive health services which are tailored for young people at an event to launch Link Up in Kampala.

Story by James Kityo, a Key Correspondent based in Uganda 

The Uganda minister of state for health is calling for greater investment in sexual and reproductive health services which are tailored for young people.

Dr Elioda Tumwesigye encouraged non-governmental organisations to work more closely with the Ministry of Health in implementing health services for young people at the launch of Link Up, a new ambitious project to reach one million people in Uganda and four other countries.

“Sex is a reality. Whatever we do we have to have sex,” said Tumwesigye. “Our challenge as Uganda’s Ministry of Health is how to reach other young people who will not be covered by the LinkUp project. You can count on our support and we thank the Netherlands for funding the project and other development programs in Uganda.”

The minister noted that young people are a population most at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and urged programmes to pay attention to the issues of poverty which increase risks. He gave an example of house helps (maids) who are sexually abused by their male bosses, and other males in their place of work, yet they have no choice but to bear it because they are poor.

The Link Up project and partners

Link Up is a three-year project designed to integrate sexual and reproductive health and rights services for young people (10-24) affected by HIV. It is being run in five countries; Uganda, Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia and Myanmar.

The project partners include: the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Marie Stopes International, Population Council, Stop AIDS now, the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIS and the Athena Network. And in Uganda, Link Up is implemented by a local partner, the Community Health Alliance Uganda, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other organisations.

The project goal is to increase uptake of quality maternal health, family planning and HIV services among young people.It also includes advocacy with health workers and policy makers to improve young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. In Uganda 11 districts of Kampalawill benefit, including: Wakiso, Kayunga, Nakasongola, Mayuge, Namutumba, Bugiri, Iganga, Kamuli, Luwero and Mukono.

Young people with HIV speak of bitter pills

Phionah*, a young person talking on the launch of the project, called for meaningful youth participation in all aspects of decision making, and youth friendly services that are not judgemental, saying: “The medical doctors need to listen to us. For instance recently they introduced the bitter pills. My CD4 cell count had been at 900. But recently I realised that it had dropped to 600. It had been affected by the bitter pills, which I was not compliant enough to swallow.”

Another young person, Davis* from Mbarara who lives with HIV, noted that health facilities do not have staff that young people can talk to and young people often fear to seek services in facilities their relatives attend.

He said: “We young people, it is not good people asking us questions like – how did you get the virus? Most of them are interested in knowing how we got the virus. For us that is very disturbing. Some of us were born with the virus and some of us were not born with the virus. For me I was born with the virus. So I also ask, is it my problem?”

Message from Community Health Alliance Uganda

Dr Stephen Watiti who is the board chairman of Community Health Alliance Uganda, said about the Link-Up project: “We are a group of countries who are doing this work. I appeal to adults living with HIV to give these children living with HIV good models to look up to in life.

“These young people living with HIV need to see doctors, engineers, teachers and other professionals and great people who are living with HIV. If we adults living with HIV fail to disclose and live in hiding, these young people will not get those role models. Let us also use this project to fight stigma.”

Hans Peter van der Woude, the deputy ambassador of the Dutch embassy noted that, it was regrettable that in a context where 220 million women and girls cannot gain contraception, governments were not always able to allocate resources to sexual and reproductive health services.
He said: “We are really happy to support the Link Up project, especially as there is a huge need for informing young people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

*not real names