Ending HIV: 99% Of HIV Clients At Mbarara Referral Hospital Have Undetectable Viral Load!

Dr Celestine Barigye
Dr Celestine Barigye, Director Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital responding to media interview. Photo credit (Baker Kwikiriza)
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Traced in Mbarara City, Western Uganda, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital stands out among the seventeen regional referral hospitals, offering super-specialized services. The hospital’s HIV Clinic, established in 1998, has gained national recognition for providing comprehensive HIV/AIDS services for both children and adults.

Dr. Celestine Barigye, the Director of Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, held a press conference where he acknowledged the efforts of the HIV Clinic team in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The dedicated team is led by Dr. Winnie Muyindike, the hospital’s Consultant Physician, and Dr. Denis Nansera, a Consultant Pediatrician.

According to Dr. Barigye, the clinic currently serves close to 12,000 clients on Antiretroviral therapy (ART), with an impressive 99% achieving Viral Load Suppression (VLS). Viral Load Suppression is a critical measure indicating the success of HIV treatment.

A specialist in International Health (IH), Dr. Barigye highlighted the team’s success in ensuring that clients enrolled in ART follow the prescribed treatment plan diligently. He emphasized the comprehensive nature of HIV care and management provided by the team.

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Explaining the significance of viral load, Dr. Barigye mentioned that it is determined by the amount of virus in an infected person’s blood. A high viral load is indicated when there are above 100,000 copies/mL (milliliter) of blood. In contrast, viral load suppression occurs when an infected person has less than 200 copies of the virus per milliliter of blood.

Research findings have shown that HIV-positive individuals with viral load suppression (undetectable viral load) and consistent daily intake of ARVs bear no risk of sexually transmitting the virus.

Dr. Barigye expressed pride in the hospital’s achievement of 99% viral load suppression, attributing the success to the support of the American People through USAID Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital Strengthening Activity. He commended the ongoing efforts to build the capacity of the healthcare system in the Ankole region.

USAID’s support aims at enhancing capacity in implementing comprehensive healthcare services, including HIV/AIDS, TB, Maternal, and Child health. Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital’s dedication to strengthening health services in the Ankole region has been recognized, with recent District League Table (DLT) results showing Kiruhura district as the best-performing.

Despite these achievements, HIV prevalence in Mbarara remains a concern, with recent reports ranking Mbarara City as the second-highest after Fort Portal. Over the past three years, 1789 new HIV infections were reported in Mbarara, prompting concerns among authorities. Dr. Barigye identified factors such as low condom use and complacency among the youth as contributing to vulnerability to HIV.

Vianey Bwambale
Vianey Bwambale, a Laboratory Technologist at MRRH Clinical Laboratory processing results

The hospital has implemented several strategies, such as improving the coverage and quality of HIV prevention and testing services, to address the issue. Efforts have also been made to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) in the catchment area through sensitization campaigns and community mediations, among other initiatives.

Nationally, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has decreased from 18% in the 1980s to 5.2%. The recent interview with Dr. Nelson Musooba, the Director-General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, revealed a reduction in new infections to 17,000 from 94,000.

Every 1st December, Uganda joins the rest of the world in commemorating World HIV Day. It is worth noting that Uganda has made significant progress in the fight against the pandemic. However, the ongoing high rate of new infections, averaging 1,000 people per week, requires concerted efforts and a unified goal if the Pearl of Africa aims to declare HIV/AIDS history by 2030.

This year’s theme revolves around keeping communities at the center, with the main celebrations taking place in Rakai, one of the districts ravaged by the pandemic in the 1980s.

About the Author:
Halson Kagure is the Public Relations Officer at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, a government facility and teaching center of Mbarara University and other medical institutions in Uganda.

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