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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Uganda's HIV success questioned
By Will Ross
BBC correspondent in Kampala

Ugandan Aids poster
Uganda began campaigning on Aids in the late 1980s
An organisation helping people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda has questioned the authenticity of the government's statistics on the disease.

Uganda is often held up as a success story and the government lauded for the progress it has made with the official prevalence rate put at only 6%.

But after conducting research in districts across Uganda, an NGO suggests the real picture is far worse.

They found prevalence rates as high as 30% and bad access to anti-retrovirals.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NGEN), said he believed the HIV prevalence rate could be more than three times higher than previously thought.

"We have found the prevalence rate at this time is 17%," he told a news conference.

Research

The organisation has been carrying out research in several districts across the country and claims in the western area Rukungiri the prevalence rate is 30%, while in Busia near the Kenyan border it is 20% and in the northern district of Apac it is 18%.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga  (l)  and Doctor Elizabeth Namagala  (r)
Experts are wary of Major Rubaramira Ruranga's research
Major Ruranga, who says he has been living with HIV for the past 21 years, says his organisation has networks of people living with HIV/Aids right across the country and he used these networks to find out how many people are HIV positive in each village.

Although singing different tunes, it is perhaps a sign of good cooperation that also present at the same news conference was Doctor Elizabeth Namagala of the Ministry of Health's Aids control programme.

She said there are areas in the country where the rates are higher than the national average, but stressed that the ministry's research was more scientific but welcomed the NGEN research as "useful data".

Raffle

The major also expressed shock at the lack of access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs in Uganda.

"Are we going for a raffle?" he asked.

The ministry of health says 120,000 Ugandans currently need anti-retroviral drugs out of which 25,000 are currently accessing them - so there is a huge shortfall.

Around 3,000 people are currently getting them free of charge.

The prices are due to drop further but at around $25 a month the drugs are still out of reach for most.

Doctor Peter Mugenyi, the chair of Uganda's task force on Aids, doubts the new figures are as accurate as the official statistics but welcomes them if they cause people to take more precautions.

However controversial Major Ruranga's findings may be, the concerns he is expressing could well do some good.

Despite President Yoweri Museveni's many awards for his role in the fight against HIV/Aids, the disease remains a huge problem so complacency would be disastrous.




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