Mbale City Faces Crisis as Officials Confront Rising Rates of HIV Infections Among Street Children

Mbale - Students Arrested for Blocking Road in Protest Over Unpaid Fees
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Officials in Mbale City are addressing alarming reports of sex workers targeting street children, potentially exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), particularly HIV. During a recent health camp focusing on HIV/AIDS testing, Mr. Robert Wandwasi, the Mbale District HIV/AIDS coordinator, noted a concerning trend. Many street children tested positive for HIV, and further investigations revealed their involvement in sexual activities with sex workers.

The economic hardships compounded by escalating living costs have reportedly forced sex workers to engage with street children for minimal sums ranging from Shs2,000 to Shs5,000. Mr. Wandwasi emphasized that some of these sex workers are HIV-positive, contributing to the transmission of the virus among vulnerable minors. The HIV prevalence rate in Mbale currently stands at 4.5 percent.

A key concern highlighted by officials is the multiple sexual partners among people in long-term relationships, exacerbating the situation. Recent statistics indicate a significant number of individuals aged between 15 and 24 contracting HIV, with girls accounting for 15,000 cases and boys for 5,000 cases within the past year.

Dr. Stephen Watiti, former chairman of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda, stressed the urgency of protecting children from sexual exploitation, deeming it a criminal act. Simon Nashimolo, a 14-year-old street child, acknowledged the issue, attributing some cases to peer pressure. He urged law enforcement to intervene and apprehend sex workers involved with teenage street children.

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The Elgon regional police spokesperson, Mr. Rogers Taitika, called for formal reports to initiate investigations and arrest the culprits. Women activists, including Ms. Bennah Namono, urged the authorities to compel children to leave the streets and return home. Ms. Naomi Mujuni from the Uganda Network of Sex Workers-led Organizations declined to comment, citing the need for further research into the allegations.

Addressing the root causes, Mr. Steven Masiga of Inzu Yamasba suggested outlawing street sex work in Mbale City and educating street children about the risks associated with such activities. Mr. Sam Mulyanyuma, the senior labor officer in Mbale City, emphasized the need for a concerted effort to eliminate street children, acknowledging challenges in enforcement and a lack of suitable facilities.

Blaming the increasing number of sex workers on police laxity, Mr. James Kutosi, the Mbale City spokesperson, called for increased vigilance to prevent corruption within law enforcement.

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