Will Uganda tax booze for HIV programs

The fate of HIV or the fate of Waragi

By Melanie Nathan, May 21, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 7.33.00 AM KAMPALA – As Uganda counts a 40% reduction in AIDS-related deaths in the past decade, the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) wants Government to levy a special tax on alcohol and cigarette to fund HIV programs.

According to UAC Executive Director Dr. Kihumuro Apuuli, AIDS account for 60,000 annual deaths today, down from over 100,000 in the late 1990s. The reduction is attributed to the increasing access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs which suppress the progression of the virus and help infected persons to live long.

Other factors include behavioral change among HIV positive persons which helps to avoid re-infections.

However, addressing the press in Kampala yesterday, Apuuli and Musa Bungudu, the UNAIDS country coordinator said the 40% reduction in deaths was not worth celebrating given that HIV prevalence is on the increase. Accordingly, the officials implored the Government to expedite a tax on cigarette, alcohol, bank transactions and mobile phone airtime to fund HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment strategies.

This against the backdrop that HIV/AIDS funding in Uganda is largely dependent on donors, raising fears of unsustainability in the event donors pull out.

The AIDS commission estimates that the charges would raise $300m (about sh766b) annually for HIV campaigns if implemented.

“Resources coming from outside should not replace local funding,” Bungudu said. “Charging a few shillings per phone call or each cigarette smoked or a bottle of beer drunk can raise some funds for HIV campaigns to break the dependency syndrome.” Apuuli explained that the special HIV tax proposal had been submitted to Parliament for the legislators’ approval. “If the tax is not introduced in the coming financial year (2013/2014), at least it should come in 2014/2015,” he pled.

Uganda was recognized as a global role model in the campaign against HIV/AIDS when concerted efforts reduced the national prevalence rate from 30% in the early 1980s to 5% in 2001.

However, prevalence again increased to 6.4% in 2006 before shooting to 7.3% currently. Close to 14 million Ugandans are HIV positive yet there are 400 new infections every day.

Uganda is the only country in east and southern Africa where HIV prevalence is increasing rather than reducing, according to Bungudu.

Out of over 50 countries in Africa, only two- Uganda and Chad – are experiencing increase in HIV prevalence. Apuuli attributed the situation to a nationwide shift from emphasizing behavior change to concentrating on treatment and living positively.

“In the past no leader ended his speech without warning people against unprotected sex. When ARVs came, we focused on treatment only which caused complacency,” he explained. The officials were briefing journalists about today’s (Friday) activities to commemorate the Candle Light Day, a world event held in memory of those who have died of AIDS.

This year’s theme is “Re-engaging communities for HIV prevention”. The national activities in Kasana, Luweero district will run under the slogan “Accelerating community action towards zero new infections.”

The chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Twa-Twa, urged the public to shun multiple sexual partnerships, which are the main HIV source.

SAFAIDS.

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