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Bidibidi refugee HIV patients seek government support

By Jurugo Emmanuel Ogasto

Persons living with HIV/Aids in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe District have asked the government to support them as the food rations provided by the World Food Program (WFP) cannot adequately address their nutritional needs.

During an interaction with the Parliamentary Committee on HIV/Aids yesterday, the people living with the virus in the refugee settlement said that Covid-19 lockdown has affected them a lot in terms of accessing health services in various health facilities within the District.

The Parliamentary Committee visited BidibidiRefugee Settlement to ascertain the impact of Covid-19 on the HIV patients in the settlement.

Mr Alphonse Taban, one of the residents living with HIV said that since their arrival in Bidibidi settlement in 2016, there has been no additional support for those infected with HIV in the settlement.

He said in South Sudan, HIV patients were given a lot of food unlike the ones in Uganda.

“We appeal for additional food so that we can gain strength for taking our drugs as we have never received any support of that kind. I don’t know whether it’s the law of Uganda that is barring us from getting such support. However, we only rely on the food ratio given to us by the UNHCR”, he said.

“We are unable to help ourselves because we are disabled. We cannot run up and down to look for something to sustain our lives”, MrTaban added.

He said that there is a need for the government to support them with livelihood projects and provision of vocational skills training so that they are able to stand on their own.

MrRatibEmbaga, another HIV patient in the settlement said, the Covid-19 lockdown affected movement of the HIV patients thus accessibility of the drugs became a problem.

“Some of the HIV clients shunned the health facilities for fear of subjecting them to Covid-19 tests and quarantine. Some of the refugees who are HIV positive used to get support from their relatives who are in other zones but their accessibility also became a problem”, he said.

Ms Beatrice Abaru, the YumbeDistrict PHA Network Coordinator said, many of the HIV patients come from poor families who can’t support them.

“When you are making policies, think of the population of persons living with HIV/AIDs because their livelihoods are not touching their lives at all. We are just hurtling with lives and with the stigma that exists in the community, some of the people are not disclosing their status”, she said.

MrManisourAbasi, the YumbeDistrict HIV/AIDs focal person said, the District has an estimated number of 5,035 persons living with HIV/AIDs and the prevalence rate stands at 0.9 percent.

He said HIV counseling services uptake were slightly affected in the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

“We continue to grapple with retention of the HIV patients in care. A total of 351 patients missed their appointment in the first lockdown in March 2020 due to transport challenges”, he said.

He added: “The ART retention is mostly affected by mobile patients including migrant refugees, labourers, sex workers, truck drivers, uniformed personnel who undergo regular transfers and a significant number of refugees on ART”.

Ms Naima MelsaAvako, the Woman member of Parliament for YumbeDistrict appreciated the HIV patients for disclosing their status.

“Most of the problems associated with the patients are related to livelihood, economic empowerment and skills. We are advocating for a special budget for HIV/AIDs”, she said.

“The Uganda AIDS Commission is in our support and soon we shall meet the President to back up the support in the budget so that we can empower those living with HIV/AIDs and also sensitise the community to prevent HIV/AIDs”, MsAvako added.

Ms Sarah Kayagi, the Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDs also the Woman Mp for NamisinduaDistrict said the Committee came to Yumbe to carry out their oversight role on assessing the impact of Covid-19 on HIV/AIDs service delivery to the people living positively.

She said despite the creation of many administrative units in Yumbe, some people still move about 10km to access health services.

“During our interaction with the HIV patients, we have found out that, during the lockdown, there was difficulty in accessing antiretroviral drugs and also accessing other health services because people were not allowed to move ”, she said.

“We have also found out that, one thing that has hit us so much is the lockdown. We have over 2,350 girls who have become pregnant in a span of one year in YumbeDistrict both in Bidibidi settlement and the host community. We have asked the HIV focal person and the District Health Officer to ascertain how many girls are HIV positive”, MsKayagi added.

She said that the lockdown has not only impacted negatively on HIV services but also on the social life of the people especially the young girls and the concerns presented will be raised in theParliament for action.

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