Fighting HIV on the frontline in Uganda

With the study of HIV-positive people playing an important role in determining future patient management strategies, Australia Awards Alumna, Dr Cecilia Nattembo, is doing her part to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda.

Recipient of an Australia Awards Scholarship, Dr Nattembo returned to Uganda earlier this year after completing a Masters of International Public Health at the University of Sydney to take up a role as a Study Physician at the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) in Kampala.

The JCRC is an HIV/AIDS care and research institute established in 1990 to respond and provide a scientific approach to the country’s HIV/AIDS challenge. The centre is one site for Uganda’s AIDS Clinical Trials Group and conducts research in HIV vaccines, antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, opportunistic infections, public health and social behaviours.

Speaking on World AIDS Day, Dr Nattembo said HIV research and its resulting qualitative data was important to shape future health policies and guidelines, not only in Uganda, but across Africa and beyond.

“The key driver for HIV/AIDS research is the need for evidence to guide new, cost-effective measures and products that are used to fight the epidemic and its related conditions,” Dr Nattembo said.

She said a key challenge for Uganda, and other developing countries fighting the epidemic was the cost of providing salvage or ‘third-line’ drug therapy for patients who had become resistant to the first- and second-line ARVs.

“As more people are taking ARVs for longer periods, there will be greater numbers who develop resistance to the first-line drugs normally provided as the starting point to treat the virus in developing countries.

“As the first-line and second-line drugs fail, patients need salvage therapy, provided by the JCRC, which requires newer, more expensive drugs. Unlike the first-world countries where HIV-positive patients are tested for resistance first before deciding which therapy to provide, countries like Uganda do not have the money or facilities to test for drug-resistance. This will become a public health issue that needs to be addressed in order to effectively fight the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.”

With approximately 24.7 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living with HIV, the Australian Government’s commitment to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS on the continent, and reducing the stigma associated with it, is underlined by its investment in Australia Awards Scholarships and Fellowships.

Australia Awards is training more African health professionals to assist in the prevention and management of HIV/AIDS in their countries through the provision of Masters Scholarships with a focus on public health.

For more information on how Australia Awards assists in the fight against HIV in Africa, click here

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