By Hannah Marion Namukasa
The Chairperson of the Committee on HIV/AIDS and Related Matters, Hon. Sarah Netalisire called on fellow legislators to mount pressure on government to operationalize the HIV/AIDS Trust Fund.
Netalisire who was speaking during a scientific conference on HIV/AIDS on Thursday, 27 April 2023 said that this is key as the United States’ President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which has been supporting and financing HIV/AIDS treatment may be halted due to the recent passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,2023.
“As you know, we have been receiving funding from PEPFAR but as we speak Uganda AIDS Commission and Ministry of Health are supposed to prepare for the next quarter of release of funds. As I speak, the US Embassy has put a halt to the meeting that would lead to the release of funds. This challenge will disrupt distribution of drugs to this country,” said Netalisire.
She said this is an awakening call for government to expeditiously implement the AIDS Trust Fund created in 2014 saying the 1.3 million people currently on HIV/AIDS treatment cannot survive without drugs.
“We need urgent operationalization of the AIDS Trust Fund if Ugandans have to live. This money has been collected but has been remitted to the consolidated fund,” Netalisire said.
The AIDS Trust fund is a legal entity supposed to attract funding from the levies on soft and alcoholic drinks.
There was a general consensus from partners implementing HIV/AIDS programmes, that limited funding was mainly responsible for the growing complacency in HIV prevention, the increasing new infections and related deaths.
The Uganda AIDS Commission’s Director General, Dr. Nelson Musoba said the call for a stable source of AIDS funding was long overdue, cognizant that the cost of maintaining one on HIV treatment is high.
“It requires Shs700,000 to maintain one patient on HIV treatment per year; this includes drugs, tests and monitoring. If you multiply with the number of people on treatment, it costs almost one trillion a year,” said Musoba.
He argued that most of the work in HIV/AIDS has been left to donors and urged government to for instance, finance research.
The Vice Chairperson of the Health Committee, Hon. Joel Ssebikali said government and Parliament have taken a firm stand on homosexuality and reiterated the need to stand strong against threats from donors.
“We shall not be scared with reports on threats to withdraw funding. As the President recently stated, we cannot be guided to do wrong things; if it means sacrificing part of our salaries to finance the AIDS Trust Fund, we shall,” he said.
The Minister of State for Primary Health Care, HON. Anifa Kawooya said government is willing to continuously work with donors but on terms that should not compromise the long held values and culture of the people.
“I do not think that they will leave or discontinue working with us; we need funding and we can keep working with them without compromising our values and cultures,” Kawooya said.