Implementer's Meeting in Kampala

(Hotel Serena)

Traveling in Africa is neither easy nor logical. Now, I want you to visualize the map of Africa as I begin to describe my circuitous route from Lilongwe to Kampala. What should have been maybe a two hour direct flight dragged out for 19 hours!

The CDC driver picked me up at my house at 8am for our 10:30 flight – so far so good.

From Lilongwe, we flew due EAST to Lusaka (why might you ask??? To pick up more passengers, of course). From Lusaka, our flight was delayed for an hour or so before we headed towards Nairobi. I am not sure if any of you have traveled thru Nairobi, but its airport is pretty dismal. I had nine lovely hours to kill before our delayed flight took off at 11:30pm.

Heidi, Amy and Ann
(Heidi and Ann from South Africa)

While going through security, my backpack was flagged for its suspicious contents. The Kenyan security guard whipped out one of my tampons and began to frantically wave it in my face screaming, ˜What is this? I was totally taken aback – was he serious? I calmly yet confusingly replied, ˜it’s a tampon”. He had no concept of that particular word and continued to scream at me (now, in his defense – and I apologize to all my environmentally conscious friends – the tampon was disguised in a plastic applicator). Fortunately, a friend of mine from Zimbabwe placated this riled-up guard by hollering out, ˜it’s cotton”. Sheepishly and embarrassingly, the guard returned my tampons to its respective pocket and allowed me to proceed to the gate!

(Derek – with CDC Zimbabwe)

Meanwhile, I was en route (along with several thousand other participants) to present at PEPFARs annual Implementers Meeting in Uganda! Kenyan Airways overbooked all of its flights to Entebbe and were bumping people right and left off the earlier flights, leaving a pretty impressive crew waiting for its midnight departure, including the Director of CDC GAP and Ambassador Mark Dybul! Ironically, all the stress and unnecessary delays culminated into a 45-minute flight from Nairobi to Entebbe. Needless to say, we could have rented a car and driven to Entebbe in half the time!

Zimbabwe Cash - check out the expiration date!
(Zimbabwean Dollar – note the expiration date!)

The Implementers Meeting itself has been pretty remarkable, albeit exhausting. The opening ceremony consisted of leaders in the field of public health, including Ambassador Dybul, the head of UNAIDS’ Program on HIV/AIDS, the head of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and finally, the President of the Republic of Uganda “ The Honorable Yoweri Kaguta Museveni!

(Amy and Amanda)

Hearing Museveni speak was priceless! For those of you unaware, Museveni played a critical role in Uganda’s success of reversing the tide of HIV/AIDS. In the mid-1980s, President Yoweri Museveni responded to the emerging HIV crisis in Uganda swiftly, embarking on a nationwide tour to tell people that avoiding AIDS was a patriotic duty, and that they should abstain from sex before marriage and then go on to remain faithful to their partners (Zero Grazing Campaign) and to use condoms. During this same time period, Uganda’s Health Minister announced to the World Health Assembly that there was HIV in Uganda. As a result, the first AIDS control program in Uganda focusing on the provision of safe blood products and on educating people about the risks of HIV, was established in 1986.

Poster Session
(Poster Presentation: “Implementation and Adoption of WHO ART HL7 Messaging”)

Regardless of the President’s previous accomplishments, the man is a bit of a loon! His speech was riddled with erroneous facts, interspersed with his fiery opinions on such topics as male circumcision, capacity development, and the importance of re-thinking prevention strategies. All of his points were poignant, yet the manner in which he conveyed their meaning leaned more towards the comical.

(Sara and I at my poster session)

On another note, several gay and lesbian activists were arrested during the conference while attempting to highlight Uganda’s neglect of HIV prevention for men who have sex with men. According to a recent publication in the BBC, “There has been concern for some time that Uganda is not only failing to acknowledge the HIV prevention needs of gay men and other men who have sex with men, but pursuing aggressively homophobic policies.

Studies have recently shown that gay men in Uganda have an HIV prevalence level of 26%, but are not a target for HIV prevention. Guidelines for PEPFAR, one of the leading organizers of the implementers’ meeting, clearly state that men who have sex with men should be a priority for HIV prevention. However, the Ugandan health ministry has complained to UNAIDS about the inclusion of the needs of gay men in HIV prevention initiatives. This action was defended by a representative of the country’s AIDS Commission who said “the practice of homosexuality is illegal.”

(Hotel Serena)

Just as a follow-up, Mark Dybul (the head of PEPFAR) authorized the registration of the activists at the meeting, and ensured that arrangements had been made to release the protesters from police custody.

The conference has finally come to an end. I spent the entire week in Kampala and never ventured beyond the walls between the two hotels that hosted the conference – except for my one brief outing in between sessions to the craft market down the street. As a result, I don’t have too many photos from my stay.

(The craft market)

I leave in a matter of days (Tuesday) for Austin. I am so ready to return home and to see Andy – not to mention my friends and family in that part of the world! I’ll try to figure out a night where we can have a communal gathering of sorts perhaps at Hula Hut or another outdoor locale. I am open to suggestions.

Much love,

1 comment to Implementer's Meeting in Kampala

  • Kristi I

    Thank you for your window of life in another part of the world Amy! Do please let me know if a group gathering comes together. Your time here in Austin will fly by and you will only accomplish a sliver of what you hope to. Relax and enjoy it! Love – Kristi

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