In June, three volunteer acupuncturists joined The PanAfrican Acupuncture Project (PAAP) and traveled to Lyantonde, Uganda, to conduct the first of three trainings of 32 health-care providers. The trainings took place at the Lyantonde Hospital, Kabula Health Subdistrict, and brought together nurses, nursing assistants, and midwives from the surrounding Rakai, Lyantonde, and Sembabule districts.
It is significant that the trainings took place there, in that this is considered to be the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in Uganda. The town of Lyantonde is at the crossroads of many significant trucking routes in the country, linking Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya. As a response to economic hardship and poverty and hardened social customs, this is where there was, and continues to be, a great deal of prostitution. It is easy to understand how desperation and ignorance led to the spread of HIV/AIDS across Uganda and into other countries.
Although Uganda has often served as the model of how the AIDS epidemic can be addressed and eradicated-a role that is often well deserved-there remain many shortcomings. Despite the many millions of dollars and hundreds of NGOs that have flooded Uganda, prostitution continues. In Lyantonde, there is a great deal of poverty, and young women often turn to prostitution to survive. At night, young women stand in the middle of the street flagging down the trucks. Also, the young men who nonchalantly orchestrate operations contact the women via cell phone. On one side of a small hotel courtyard there may be well-kept, clean, and safe rooms. On the other side there are rooms where the truck drivers meet the prostitutes
Where once there were many successful governmental and grass-root efforts, the results are now painfully absent. In 2003, when PAAP first began working in Uganda, free condoms were readily available everywhere, and posters promoting safe sex and the need for counseling and testing were always in plain view. In Lyantonde town we saw none-no notices for free condoms or information about counseling and testing.
The whole situation became that much more painful when we learned that for each encounter the young women often made as little as 2000 shillings, the equivalent of $1. In an area where jobs are scarce and poverty is great, it seems that the ultimate attack on the prostitutes is the huge risk they are taking for a small amount of money that will never help them do more than survive. It seems to be a system that currently can only perpetuate itself. Hotel owners and local merchants are able to survive from the revenue they receive from room use and the sale of food and alcohol. .Recent news reports have said that, because of decreased supplies of AIDS medications, Uganda is telling providers not to give them to new patients. So, rather than being diminished, the importance of PAAP, her Trainers, and her mission has been strengthened. PAAP is committed to creating collaborative relations with AIDS support organizations in order to support their efforts. Because acupuncture often leads to significant positive changes, patients develop a sense of trust in the practitioner and therefore are more apt to come in when there is a medical need. Thus, patients eagerly return for treatments, and acupuncture and our Trainees serve as gateways to conventional medical interventions, including counseling, testing, and, if necessary, treatment. PAAP will continue to contribute everything we can to address the needs of the people of Rakai, Lyantonde, and Sembabule districts.
The 32 health-care providers we trained in June demonstrated their commitment to learning the acupuncture protocols and their dedication to using their new skills to address the needs of their fellow Ugandans. At the concluding ceremony at the end of the training, the District Health Officer, in a display of unsolicited support, scheduled a gathering of the Trainees from Rakai. This will serve as a time to strengthen emerging skills and deepen collegiality among the Trainees in preparation to our returning to conduct the second training.