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17th May 2015

HIV testing: In Uganda, it’s a couples thing!

Health experts have long advocated the need to look beyond pregnant women to reduce HIV transmission from mothers to their children. Ellon Mabaasa and her team think getting male partners involved will help, and they’ve got the numbers to prove it.

Studies have shown that male involvement in HIV testing reduces the risks of vertical transmission (mother-to-child) and infant mortality by more than 40%.  So it comes as no surprise that a lack of male involvement has drawn the attention of health organisations around the world.

But engaging men on their health and the health of their families remains a struggle for health workers in many developing countries.

It’s professionals with a strong passion for prevention, like Ugandan nurse Ellon Mabaasa, who are leading the charge to get the guys involved.  What Ellon loves most about her job, she claims, is when people of the Ntungamo district voluntarily visit the Rwashameire Clinic where she works to monitor their health.

With the support of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) – an organisation dedicated to ending pediatric HIV/AIDS – Ellon and her colleagues have pioneered a “Wellness Campaign”, the likes of which Uganda had never seen.

Better together

The campaign focuses on testing for HIV in men and women…together. In fact, it places so much emphasis on couples that those who agree to get tested as a duo receive a certificate celebrating the deed. The aim? Get men on board with take a leading role in their family’s health through teamwork.

So far, Ellon and her colleagues have given out hundreds of certificates, testing and counseling to over 2,270 patients of which almost half were men.

Tumwekwase Evans, 28, is one such man. He took part in the Wellness Campaign with his wife, Nayebare Sylvia to protect their three daughters from the disease. Sylvia and Evans now advocate couples testing for HIV to their community.

Through the support of EGPAF and activities like the Wellness Campaign, health workers are starting to break down these barriers and get men in on the act when it comes to preventive healthcare. They’re moving beyond the obvious to tackle societal challenges often underestimated in HIV prevention efforts.

Spreading the responsibility across the family means more people thinking about keeping the future generation healthy. “Two heads are better than one,” as the saying goes, and it this case two heads equal less HIV in the world.

This is part two of five in our series “From catchphrase to action” where we profile people and organisations moving beyond talk to find concrete solutions to global health issues.

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