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Covid lockdown will spur new HIV infections

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The long stay at home for young people is likely to expose them to new HIV/Aids infections, experts warn, as schools remain shut to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Experts say education institutions potentially play a protective role for children but during the lockdown most young people have been left unattended to, thus leaving them vulnerable in communities. In Uganda, at least 10.7 million children in primary schools, two million in pre-primary, two million in secondary schools, and 314,548 students in universities and tertiary institutions have been out of restricted learning environments since March 18, 2020.

The director Basic Education at the Education ministry, Ismael Mulindwa, said whereas school/university gates will eventually reopen, some girls may never return to school.

“As a ministry, we are worried that we may not get back all the numbers of learners that we sent back home. In this period, many may have already fallen victim to HIV and you can’t hide from that truth,” Mulindwa, who is also in charge of the ministry’s Health and HIV unit, said.

He added: “If the school-going girls are getting pregnant during the lockdown, how sure are you that those impregnating them are not HIV positive?”

Mulindwa told The Observer that the sector’s gender unit is trying to reach out to areas with high incidents but it’s tricky that learners and parents can’t be reached for sensitization about HIV due to COVID restrictions.

“I should admit that we are not addressing these lockdown concerns in an organised way because our teams work within limitations of Covid standard operating procedures. So, the best we can do is talking to district officials who cascade this information into communities,” he said.  

Currently, the education ministry has shifted to crafting messages – now at printing stage – that will be sent out to learners through the ministry of Health taskforce structures.

SCHOOLS AS SAFE HAVENS

The latest UNAIDS 2020 global report indicates that staying in school longer for adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 has a protective benefit in reducing the risk of HIV infections.

The report showed that this environment, particularly for girls, increases their access to health information, delay their sexual debut, reduce early marriage and teenage pregnancies as well as promote safer sexual behaviours.

The report further noted that countries in the Eastern and Southern region that have higher completion rates for lower secondary school at more than 50 per cent have registered relative reduction in both HIV risks and new infections since 2010.

In the region, the UNAIDS report ranked Eswatini with the highest percentage of completion rates at 62 per cent. It is followed by South Africa (56%), Lesotho (50%), Zimbabwe (46%), Kenya (44%), Botswana (40%), and Namibia with 39%. Angola tops the list of countries with the lowest completion rate with negative three followed by Zambia with 10%, Mozambique 11%, Tanzania 18% and Malawi at 32%. Uganda followed under this docket at 35 per cent, Ethiopia 42%, and Rwanda with 45%.

Mulindwa attributed Uganda’s low retention rates for the girl child to teenage pregnancies, forced early marriages, violence against children, sexual violence, poverty, unfair cultural attitudes, among others.

School children get their temperatures tested in Botswana

The country program director at AHF-Uganda Cares, Henry Magala, said before the pandemic, HIV has been proportionately higher among female adolescents. He said the current lockdown has worsened the situation since social media continues to expose young people to sex with limited information on HIV prevention and protection.  

Magala insisted that under the lockdown, a lot of unprotected sexual activity is taking place underground and the probability of HIV infections climbing is high.

“We are still living in denial of the fact that within this age group [15-24], there are no sexual activities. We call this an innocent group yet the reality shows otherwise. Whenever we think that something is not happening yet it is taking place, the likelihood that HIV infections are happening is high…” Magala said.

Magala said before schools closed, young people used to have youth friendly corners and clinic days for HIV-related information but due to congestion, the sessions closed. At AHF-Uganda Cares, health workers used to conduct daily community HIV testing and interact with people and school/university students.

“The lockdown and Covid SOPs restrictions mean that people don’t know their HIV status because they are not tested and cannot access treatment if positive. This is likely to spiral HIV new infections in Uganda,” Magala said.

He added that while females have been active in seeking treatment, their numbers have also suddenly reduced due to increased transport costs. The AHF HIV clinics used to attract as high as 90 per cent attendance but the numbers of females have dropped to 70 per cent, meaning the 30 per cent have been lost somewhere. For males, whose positivity rate is much lower globally, their attendance is at 40 per cent.

IMPROVING RETENTION RATES

In 2018, the Education ministry partnered with the Global Fund to improve the retention of girls in schools. This project ought to have started in 2018 and ended in December 2020. However, the project delayed for two years.

“There were some misunderstandings between Global Fund and the ministry but I will not go into details. The ministry felt that the issues fronted by Global Fund at the time were not a priority in addressing retention rates,” Mulindwa said. “They looked at giving girls subsidies like Vaseline, knickers, sanitary pads, school bags, soap, and half-slips, among others which weren’t the case with us.”

Several meetings were held with the political leadership until they reached a consensus. As such, the ministry procured the items and planned to implement the entire three-year project in one year, starting January 2020. A month later, government closed schools and the project has since stalled.

“If you go to our stores, they are full of items we had to distribute to the girls but when schools closed, we were hit badly. We are worried that some items may go bad but we are having discussions on the modalities of distribution with the political leadership,” Mulindwa, also chairperson of the sector’s COVID taskforce, said.

He added that in the last meeting, the political leadership insisted that distribution of subsidies to girls will attract crowds, thus aiding the spread of COVID-19. According to the project plan, the next phase is expected to run from 2021 to 2023. It intends to, among others, address stigma among HIV positive girls to enable them stay in school.

Mulindwa explained that stigma in schools has forced many parents not to disclose the HIV status of their children – a reason the ministry has no data bank for all learners living with HIV countrywide. UNAIDS current figures showed that there are 1.5 million people living with HIV in Uganda. By end of 2019, Uganda registered 53,000 new HIV infections and 21,000 AIDS-related deaths.  

ROLE OF PARENTS

With uncertainty around reopening education institutions, Magala urged parents to engage their children in sexuality education.

“Sex is sacred but circumstances now dictate that it cannot be business as usual. Parents should talk to their children about the dangers of irresponsible sex because if we don’t speak, the community is continually going to take advantage of naivety of our children as we leave them at home,” Magala said.  

Having worked at The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) for at least 12 years, Dr Lydia Mungherera observed that parents have left sexuality education to school heads, NGOs, and religious insitutions.

“Parents need to talk to children about sexual relationships instead of keeping ourselves too busy and exposing our girls and boys to risks of acquiring HIV. Discussing sex is a taboo in some cultures but for how long are you going to observe this taboo?” Mungherera asked.  “Talk to your children so that they are aware of dangers of early sex and HIV.”

nangonzi@observer.ug





Source – observer.ug

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million

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Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe

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A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.



Source – observer.ug

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News

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Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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