YUMBE. Persons Living with HIV/AIDs in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district have asked the government to support them as the food rations provided by the World Food Program (WFP) canot adequately address their nutritional needs.

During an interaction with the Parliamentary Committeee on HIV AIDs last week, the HIV clients in the settlement said the Covid-19 lockdown affected them a lot in accessing health services in the various health facilities in the district.

The Parliamentary Committee visited Bidibidi refugee settlement to ascertain the impact of Covid-19 on the HIV clients in the settlement.

Mr Alphonse Taban, one of the residents living with HIV said since their arrival in Bidibidi settlement in 2016, there has been no food addition support for those living positively in the settlement.

He said in South Sudan, the HIV clients were capable and were given a lot of food support unlike the one in Uganda.

"We cry for additional food support so that it gives us strength for taking our drugs but we have never received any support of that kind. I don't know whether it's the law of Uganda that is barring us from getting such support so we are just quiet but we only rely on the food ratio given by UNHCR", he said.

"We are unable to help ourselves because we are disabled. We can not run up and down to look for something to sustain our lives", Mr Taban added.

He said there is a need for the government to support them with livelihood projects and provision of vocational skills training so that they are able to stand on their own.

Mr Ratib Embaga, another HIV client in the settlement said, the Covid-19 lockdown affected movement of the HIV clients thus accessibility of the drugs became a problem.

"Some of the HIV clients shunned the health facilities for fear of subjecting them for Covid-19 tests and quarantining them. Some of the refugees who are living positively used to get support from their relatives who are in other zones but their accessibility also became a problem", he said.

Ms Beatrice Abaru, the Yumbe district PHA Network coordinator said, many of the HIV clients come from Vulnerable families and that the families can't even support the HIV clients.

"When you are making policies, think of the population of persons living with HIV/AIDs because their livelihoods are not touching their lives at all. We are just hurstling with life and with the stigma that exists in the community, some of the people are not disclosing their status", she said.

Mr Manisour Abasi, the Yumbe district HIV/AIDs focal person said, the district has an estimated number of 5,035 persons living with HIV/AIDs and the prevalence rate stands at 0.9 per cent.

He said HIV counseling services uptake were slightly affected in the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

"We continue to grapple with retention of clients in care. A total of 351 clients missed their appointment in the first lockdown in March 2020 due to transport challenges", he said.

He added: "The ART retention is mostly affected by mobile clients including migrant refugees, labourers, sex workers, truck drivers, uniformed personnel who undergo regular transfers and a significant number of refugees on ART about 560 of Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) are lost to follow as they move between settlements and across the borders".

Ms Naima Melsa Avako, the Woman member of parliament for Yumbe district appreciated the clients for disclosing their status.

"Most of the problems associated with the clients are related to livelihood, economic empowerment and Skilling. We are advocating for a special budget for HIV/AIDs", she said.

"The Uganda AIDS Commission is in our support and soon we shall meet the President to back up the support in the budget so that we can empower those living positively and also sensitise the community to prevent HIV/AIDs", Ms Avako added.

Ms Sarah Kayagi, the chairperson Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDs also the Woman Mp for Namisindua district said the Committee came to Yumbe to carry out their oversight role on assessing the impact of Covid-19 on HIV/AIDs service delivery to the people living positively.

She said despite the creation of many administrative units in Yumbe, some people still move about 10km to access health services.

"During our interaction with the HIV clients, we have found out that, during the lockdown, there was difficulty in accessing antiretroviral drugs and also accessing other health services because people were not allowed to move '', she said.

"We have also found out that, one thing that has hit us so much is the lockdown, we have gotten over 2,350 girls who have become pregnant in a span of one year in Yumbe district both in Bidibidi settlement and the host community so we have asked the HIV focal person and the District Health Officer to ascertain how many of those girls have turned out to be HIV positive", Ms Kayagi added.

She said the lockdown has not only impacted negatively on HIV services but it also impacted negatively on the social life of the people especially the young girls and the concerns presented will be raised in the flow of Parliament for action.