In Uganda, there is “openness and not stigma” about AIDS, said Rand Stoneburner, a Cambridge professor and an authority on AIDS. And people have been willing to talk openly about who has AIDS and how not to get it, he said.
According to U.N. statistics from 2001, approximately 5 percent of Uganda’s adult population has AIDS, as opposed to about 20 percent of South Africa’s population and about 14 percent of Kenya’s population.
“It is palpable that there was an opinion and discussion” about the disease, he said.
Stoneburner argued that ordinary Ugandans are more willing to discuss the virus and its effects and to participate in community support networks than their African neighbors.
Ugandans have also been engaging in casual sex far less and using contraceptives far more since AIDS first posed a public health risk in the late 1980s, he added.
In other countries—notably South Africa and Kenya—people are less open, said Stoneburner.
“There’s death around them, but they’re not willing to say, ‘Yes, there’s death in our community,’” he said.
Although he said some are skeptical about Uganda’s success in tackling the AIDS epidemic, Stoneburner was sanguine about the country’s achievements.
There is “compelling evidence of a real decline” in the overall number of AIDS cases in Uganda, he said.
Speciosa Kazibwe Wandira, the former vice-president of Uganda who is now studying AIDS at the SPH, spoke briefly in agreement with the notion that Uganda’s open social network has been a mighty force in the country’s battle against AIDS.
“The experience of people working together can make them respond positively in a time of threat,” Kazibwe said.
A third of today’s 15-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa will die before they are thirty-five, according to the Harvard AIDS Coalition.
In January, President Bush pledged $15 billion over five years to help African countries fight the AIDS virus.