GULU, Uganda (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Before locking up coronavirus in Uganda, Matina who was HIV positive underwent morning routine. After waking up, he drinks tea, eats something small, and takes antiretroviral medication according to doctor’s instructions.
But since restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 were introduced in March, the situation has changed. He doesn’t have anything to eat so he avoids the medicine because it makes him feel nauseous and dizzy when taken without food.
Matina, 67 – who asked for her first name for fear of stigma of having had HIV since 2014 – said her relatives could not work because of regulations that prohibit travel and services that are not important. The seven children he supports eat at most once a day.
“Corona has brought so many problems to me,” Matina told the Thomson Reuters Foundation while sitting outside her little grass-roofed house in the poor and shabby part of Gulu, northern Uganda.
“Getting food is not easy. I can’t buy beans because the price has risen and I can’t afford them. No money. Maybe a corona is better because hunger will only kill you. ”
Two months in confinement to prevent the spread of a coronavirus pandemic, many Ugandans struggle.
In Uganda, around 1.4 million people, or just over 3% of the population, live with HIV or AIDS, according to government figures, one of the highest rates in eastern Africa, with around 23,000 people dying each year and 50,000 new infections.
Women are disproportionately affected, accounting for nearly 60% of adults living with HIV. New infections among young women aged 15-24 are more than double among young men and stigma against those with HIV is rife.
Uganda, however, has made big strides to combat HIV / AIDS, reducing infection rates from 18.5 percent in 1992, according to US data, with one million people using drugs to slow the progression of HIV and delay progression to AIDS.
The national parliament in 2014 criminalized the intentional transmission of disease.
NATION TO VIRUS STEM
But the rapid spread of the corona virus means locking Uganda including a national travel ban imposed with an hour’s notice, leaving no opportunity to plan.
Local authorities told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they did not have time to provide the right supplies for people with chronic illness, or those who needed emergency care.
At least 11 pregnant women have died due to problems accessing maternal health services, according to the Pro-Bono Women’s Initiative based in Kampala.
“This element was not dealt with at an early stage because of the pandemic,” said Dr. Kaggwa Mugagga, HIV adviser at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Uganda.
“We have to sit down and see what impact locking will have on various programs.”
He said at first there were problems in distributing drugs but more and more volunteers were cycling and using motorbikes to give medicines to HIV patients whose compromised immune systems were feared putting them at greater risk of COVID-19.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health has also created a program to enable public health workers to collect HIV pills for patients.
But recently, Mugagga said he has heard more and more reports about food shortages because people cannot work.
The ongoing uncertainty is “psychological torture” for people with HIV, he said.
Dr Joshua Musinguzi, manager of AIDS control at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, said the government had been trying to tackle problems with food as well as supplying people with the medicines they needed.
The government also urges people not to relax efforts to fight HIV / AIDS even though all energy is targeted to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which so far has infected around 250 people in Uganda.
“We are not in normal times so maybe not everything is achieved … there may be gaps and patients can experience difficulties,” Musinguzi said.
TOO INTEREST FOR MEDICINE
The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), a non-governmental organization founded in 1987, is continuing testing, drug distribution, home visits for bedridden patients, and following up with people who have lost appointments.
Michael Ochwo, program manager for the TASO Gulu center, said while some patients said they were struggling to eat, “currently the funds do not provide food”. He said TASO spoke to the government task force to see what could be done.
In Layibi, a neighborhood in Gulu, Walter Ojara, 49, is in mourning for his sister, whom he calls friendly and popular.
Beatrice Oceer, who is HIV positive, died at the age of 33 on March 21, a few days after a public transportation ban was imposed.
Oceer is a victim of domestic violence and previously stopped taking antiretroviral drugs for several months when she ran away from her husband, Walter explained. In the months before the lockdown, he contracted tuberculosis and once again missed treatment when he had no food to carry.
When the pandemic began to spread, he stopped eating completely.
“The impact of the locking caused many problems because there was no movement, no money, nobody could support you,” Ojara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation outside the sheet-roofed house he shared with his sister, wife and children.
Oyoo Robert Ricky, a health center facilitator at the Gulu clinic where Oceer was treated, said food shortages were a problem almost everywhere.
Three of 941 HIV / AIDS patients have died since the restrictions began, he said, including a mother of two 34-year-old children.
In the immediate neighborhood, Acen, a single mother with five children, laughed sadly when asked what she ate during the confinement. He boiled the plants once a day, but that wasn’t enough, he said.
“We are hungry, children complain, there is nothing that can be done because there is nothing there, nothing available to give to them,” said Acen, 36, who has struggled with HIV for six years after contracting from an ex-husband who cheated on her .
While he continued to use his antiretroviral drugs, Acen said it caused the problem.
“It really punishes me when you take medicine on an empty stomach, it gives you a funny disease,” said Acen, who also asked that only his first name be used.
Before the pandemic he would help in people’s homes in exchange for a small payment. Now, he says he can’t buy the mask he has to wear to take the medicine.
“We prefer to buy food,” he said.
Reporting by Sally Hayden, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson Reuters charity branch, which covers the lives of people throughout the world who struggle to live free or just. Visit http://news.trust.org