Candlelight Memorial 2021 Press Release Message
Towards HIV Stigma Free Work Places and Journey to “Ending AIDS by 2030”.
Although Uganda has made a lot of progress in responding to the burden of HIV and AIDS over the last four decades, HIV and AIDS continue to pose a major public health and economic challenge, threatening the attainment of global targets towards ending the epidemic. There are many factors driving the HIV epidemic that are socio-behavioral (including concurrent sexual partnerships, transactional and sex work, low and inconsistent condom use, low male circumcision, alcohol and drug abuse); Structural (e.g., gender inequalities, harmful socio-cultural practices), and economic (including poverty as well as gaps in access to prevention, care and treatment services. Outstanding factors include high levels of stigma, discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence particularly against key populations such as sex workers (SW), men who have sex with men (MSM), persons who inject or use drugs (PWID), and other vulnerable groups such as Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW). Fears of stigmatizing attitudes and practices amongst some health care workers in facilities prevent those at highest risk of HIV infection from accessing services for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Efforts to coherently address structural issues in order to impact the course of the epidemic and behavior change efforts (such as age-appropriate sex education, condom use and HIV prevention programs among populations at greater risk of HIV exposure) have not been sufficiently implemented to scale to result in sustainable declines in new HIV infections. These inadequacies perpetuate risk and vulnerability, sustaining the cycle of new infections from one generation to the next or spreading infections from one population group to another. The inadequacies herein are partly attributable to inadequate engagement of PLHIV networks and other community structures. All these continue to provide a fertile ground to sustain the epidemic.
Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) under the “Three Ones” principles continues to employ a multi sectoral approach to coordinate stakeholders for a harmonized national response to HIV/AIDS. As part of advocacy efforts, UAC spearheads commemoration of key global and national events with an aim to re-invigorate commitment of leaders at all levels as well as stimulate communities to reflect on their contribution in fighting the epidemic. The key events include: The International Candle Light Memorial (CLM), Philly Lutaaya Day and the World AIDS Day.
1.2 Background to the Candlelight Memorial Day
The International Candlelight memorial is one of the oldest and largest grass root mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness in the World. The day started in 1983 and takes place every third Sunday in May. It is a day when communities stand in solidarity with those who lost their dear ones to AIDS; provide a platform for advocacy and stimulate increased individual resolve and actions to fight the epidemic. It is the day when everyone is called upon to rise up to face the challenges encountered in the struggle. The people living with HIV (PLHIV) index survey of 2019 revealed that the most persistent form of external stigma was awareness of both family members and non-family members who made discriminatory remarks or gossiped about the PLHIV. As a result, people choose to isolate themselves and not attend social gatherings, seek social support and apply for job(s) among others. Addressing this burden therefore calls for high-level political commitment and action, enhanced community mobilization and engagement for social and behavior change, respect for the rights of people living with HIV and other vulnerable populations.
1.3 The Global and National Themes for the Candlelight Memorial Day 2021
AIC whose mission is to provide sustainable, collaborative and integrated HIV&AIDS and other related health services in Uganda, joins Uganda AIDS Commission, National Social Security Fund (NSSF), people living with HIV (PLHIV), AIDS development partners and various employers to commemorate the International Candle Light Memorial Day on 27th May, 2021. The global theme is; “Keeping the Light on HIV” and national theme is customized to; “HIV Stigma Free Work Place: Journey to Ending AIDS by 2030”.
The theme focuses on stigma to amplify the low pace in reduction of HIV stigma and discrimination which affects timely decision making to seek health services, marginalizes PLHIV, affected or at risk of HIV and excludes them from accessing essential services, including life-saving anti-retroviral treatment (ART). Limited access to these services increases vulnerabilities, thereby hampering governments’ effort to attain the national development goals including the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
The National objectives of commemorating the Candlelight Memorial 2021 include;
- Advocate for Workplaces free from Stigma and discrimination as a result of one’s HIV status
- To equip/Light the communities with messages for intensified fight against HIV and AIDS amidst the COVID19 pandemic.
- To mobilize over 20 million stakeholders across the country in the bid to end stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV
The Expected Outcomes of commemorating Candlelight Memorial 2021 include;
- Workplaces free from Stigma and discrimination as a result of one’s HIV status
- Increased knowledge especially among men and young people about prevention and control of HIV and AIDS amidst the COVID19 pandemic.
- 20 million stakeholders mobilized across the country to end stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV
1.4 AIC’s Renewed Commitment to the AIDS Response
AIC through the National Secretariat in Kampala and the 8 Regional Centres of Excellence in Kampala, Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale, Soroti, Arua, Lira and Kabale will contribute towards the national Candlelight objectives and hereby renews her commitment to contribute towards attaining HIV epidemic control in Uganda and ending AIDS by 2030. AIC will work through her Strategic Plan 2017/2018-2021/2022 which is aligned to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan (HSSIP), National Strategic Plan (NSP) to implement behavioral, biomedical and structural interventions simultaneously for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and also strengthen adolescent and sexual reproductive health services.