HIV/AIDS viral load suppression is promising in Gulu but lacking among youth

Staff of St. Mary's Hospital Lacor meeting with nurses. (Photo/Robert Mone)

Franka Adong, a resident of Lacor Trading Centre, Gulu City, was born with HIV/AIDS. But she was
able to give birth to two children, both HIV-negative, thanks to the government’s initiative
Prevention from Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT).

“I started my drugs at 8- years old and now living happily because my viral load is
suppressed, married with a partner who is living with HIV/AIDS but surprisingly all my
two children are negative about the epidemic,” Adong added.

Just like Adong, Marion Hope Aber, who is 20 years old and now a peer supporter at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor discovered that she has been positive since 2012. Adong, whose viral load
has been suppressed by 2018, has become an advocate of positive living, currently encouraging young adolescents to enroll in anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to suppress their viral load.

Stories such as those of Adong and Aber show some of the promising efforts showing
viral load suppression among youths who are adhering to medication in Gulu. The
government of Uganda launched a fast-track initiative targeting zero transmission by

In Gulu, for instance, figures show that 2118 people are living with HIV/AIDS out of
43716 positive people were in the Acholi subregion as of 2023. The HIV/AIDS prevalence in
Gulu City currently stands at 11.3%, which surpasses the national prevalence of 5.4% among the age group of 15–49 years.

Juliet Aunu Okeny, a MEAL specialist working with USAID-local partners in health
services in Acholi and Ankole, says 43,716 people enroll in antiretroviral therapy, yet
2,857 have their viral loads unsuppressed. 

According to Okeny, out of 9,714 children who are under 15 years old, they are
estimated to have HIV/AIDS. Only 6518 people, she says, have been enrolled in HIV
care, but only 5397 have had their viral load suppressed.

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Unlike those above 15 years old, 156,766 teenagers were estimated to be living with
HIV/AIDS, adding that 133,423 had their viral load suppressed and 145,096 were
enrolled in ART care.

Dr. Emmanuel Ochola, who is in charge of the ART clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor,
noted that the hospital is stretched thin in handling adolescents with viral loads
suppressed, adding that many fail to adhere to HIV medication.

Gladys Aber, a youth counsellor working with TASO-Gulu, attributed the challenges of
having viral load suppression to a lack of “youth-friendly corners” in health facilities.

“Limited sex education in schools and service points is a challenge,” she says. “Most of
the youth’s social activities are not integrated with sexual reproductive health and rights
activities, coupled with limited access to information and challenges associated with
drug abuse”.

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According to the zonal coordinator for mid-north at the Uganda Aids Commission, Victor
Rwegabo, there is a need to do intensive community outreach activities because “they (the youth) are dragging the efforts to end new infections by 2030 behind.”

It is estimated that 1.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, but only 1.2 million are enrolled in care.

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