PAKWACH: Located on the shores of Lake Albert, about 34km from Pakwach Town off Pakwach-Nebbi Road in Panyimur Sub County, Pakwach district of Uganda, Panyimur Landing site has become an HIV hot spot in West Nile region.
During market days which run both day and night from Sunday to Tuesday, a lot of business activity takes place, the most lucrative fish mongering of the Alestes Baremose Fish commonly referred to as Angara, Tilapia, Nile Perch and Silver Fish (Mukene)
The most expensive species is Angara which goes for shs25, 000 a piece followed by Nile Perch at shs15, 000 and shs7000 per kilogram while a basin of Silver Fish goes for shs20, 000.
This lucrative fish business attracts fishmongers from all the neighbouring districts of Nebbi, Arua, Koboko, Yumbe, Buliisa, Masindi, Hoima with many coming from South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Ms Jessica Draru, a nursing officer standing in for the district health officer says it has become a common habit for female fishmongers to be lured into the illegal business of exchanging fish for sex.
“Since it is a day and night market, female fishmongers, who cannot meet the price of good fish tend to negotiate with fishermen to cover up the price by sleeping with them. That is why most fishmongers and fishermen end up being infected with HIV,” Ms Draru explained.
She said such a practice threatens the lives of especially women, girls and youths in the area.
Draru added that another dimension to the sex for fish business driving HIV prevalence in Panyimur is the belief by the fishermen that a sexual encounter with a fishmonger brought good omen and reward of catching more fish the following day.
Mr Samuel Wathum, 41, a fisherman at the landing site acknowledged that commercial sex is a real threat to their fishing business.
“It is true that I have seen some of my colleagues indulging in commercial sex with female fishmongers but I cannot tell whether it is done in exchange for fish or love,” he said.
Mr Wathum says due to rampant stigma, most fishermen dodge HIV testing unless it is conducted at night hours, adding that many positive men do not disclose their status to their wives.
One such a victim is Mrs Jennifer, 25, a mother of one, married to a fisherman at Panyimur who said she discovered that she was HIV positive after her husband had been secretly on Antiretroviral therapy for six years.
“That angered me and I decided to divorce with him and start a new life with my 13-year-old HIV negative daughter,” a saddened Jennifer said.
The high Prevalence rate
Mr Ronald Okello, the in charge of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Clinic at Panyimur Health Center III said the current HIV prevalence rate at the health facility stands at 7% which is higher than the 6.2% national prevalence rate.
The centre has a total of 1, 800 active HIV Clients on ART, of which majority are the fishing community and on average 10 new cases of HIV are registered at the Health facility monthly.
A survey conducted by Uganda Population based Impact Assessment (UPIA) between 2016 to 2017 indicated that the HIV positivity rate of Pakwach district is at 1.5% mainly due to the sexual behaviour at Panyimur landing site and the rampant night clubs.
Mr Steen Omito, the Pakwach district Chairman said plans are already underway to regulate the rampant discos in the district.
He said at the moment, the district Council has formed committees comprising of political, technical and security officials at the district and Sub County levels to sensitize people about HIV with the aim of reducing its prevalence rate in the district.
Similarly, Ms Draru stated that the district has partnered with Infectious Disease Institute (IDI), a local NGO operating in Pakwach, Nebbi and Zombo districts to offer different services including condom distribution and community sensitization on HIV to the people.
“As IDI, we support a comprehensive package of HIV service delivery ranging from HIV Testing and Counselling, condom distribution, circumcision, community dialogues, radio talk shows and staff trainings in all the three districts,” said Dr Twaha Muhaba, the IDI Program Manager.
Dr Twaha said for the case of Panyimur, they are supporting Panyimur Health Center III with tools and knowledge so as to reach out to the community to address the increasing cases of HIV in the area.
Ms Zainab Abiria, a Nurse attached to Mother-Baby Care point of Panyimur Health Centre III said they now initiate positive mothers on ART soon after testing to avoid exposing the child to the risk of attracting the virus.
At least three out of 100 mothers who deliver at Panyimur Health Center III are HIV positive.