Uganda police force battles with HIV/Aids

According to information obtained from one of the sources.

The Police is one of the organisations in the country with the highest rates of HIV/Aids and despite a few efforts to curb the spread of the disease, the results are not positive. The Uganda Police, with more than 14,000 officers, is by international policing standards inadequate given the total national population of 33 million. Hence, the force cannot afford to lose large numbers to HIV / Aids.

Other than the inadequete numbers in personnel, the Ugandan Police force is faced with several other human resource and logistical bottlenecks. Many are largely exclusive to the force, but others are also shared with the community. One such problem is HIV/Aids, which has affected every section of the population.

Ugandan police humiliating a female detainee.jpgPolice officers demand sex from female detainees and prostitutes    HIV/Aids is rampant in the police force. Job transfers split police officers from their spouses, living situations mean several adults live in extremely close quarters, and it is rumoured that some police officers demand sex from female detainees and prostitutes. (Right, Ugandan police humiliating a female detainee). These are some of the reasons the police becomes more susceptible to the Aids scourge than anyone else in Uganda. As a result, about 13 percent of police officers in Kampala are HIV positive, according to Superintendent of Police Bazirakye Kaguta, the HIV/Aids Control Project-Uganda Police administrator.

Police force with an image problem This is more than double the national average of about six percent. Worse still, Aids NGOs have largely ignored this vulnerable group. A man living in the Nsambya barracks told Daily Monitor he has not seen an Aids counsellor visit the barracks for the 12 years he has lived there. “These counsellors fear to enter,” he said. Abbey Moiti, Kawempe police community liaison officer, agrees that police have been isolated: “The police are looked at as people who torture, people who harass, not as people who need help.”

Networking with NGOs But police groups have started organising initiatives on their own. Earlier this year, Moiti launched a post-test club for Kawempe police officers, which is still at the fund-gathering stage. Moiti says his group “bridges the gap between the public and the police,” by networking with established NGOs like Action Aid. The organisation will give officers information on how to prevent HIV, provide testing, counsel HIV positive officers, and provide information on how to live healthily with HIV. Moiti?s club will work in conjunction with the national police force?s Aids Control Program, also a police-driven awareness, screening and treatment initiative, which began in 1988. This group targets not only police officers and their families but the neighbouring community outside of the barracks as well. “They affect us and we affect them,” he explained. “We buy from them and go out for social evenings with them.”
Lack of openness But the scope of the Aids Control Program is limited. The group does not have enough money to travel outside of Kampala on a routine basis. Testing is expensive and time-consuming because the force does not have its own laboratory, and while it is able to provide ARVs, there is no money for drugs to treat opportunistic infections. Another factor impeding the organisation?s success is that police officers are reluctant to test. “There has been a lack of openness, in spite of all the sensitisation. I?m at pains to explain why that is,” said an HIV-positive police officer, who wished not to be named. According to a civilian living in the barracks, police officers are not testing because they fear they will lose their job if their bosses realise they have Aids. (Currently, police do not take on HIV positive recruits because the vigorous training could be harmful to their health. But discrimination against HIV positive police officers already in the force is unacceptable, according to Kaguta.)

If anything, HIV positive officers only experience positive discrimination “There is no discrimination,” said Kaguta, a claim the HIV-positive police officer backed up. “I went for testing in 1998 and was promoted in 2004, even though management knew I was HIV positive,” he said. “The police management has been transparent and supportive.” Kaguta conceded that some officers who are HIV-positive may receive “positive discrimination,” meaning officers with Aids will not be given physically exhausting jobs such as night-guarding. “Positive discrimination” is applied on a case-by-case basis, however. “There are people who have had HIV for years and they are still very strong,” Moiti said, adding that his post-test club will ensure that officers who are too weak to hold a gun are given another job, in administration for example.

Police force?s employment patterns create particular problems But if the police force wants to address its staggering Aids rates, it needs to focus not only on education and awareness, but also on changing the police officers? circumstances. Because officers are frequently transferred, fidelity is difficult to maintain. Officers? spouses often stay behind because they do not want to lose their jobs or uproot their children from school. The problem is worse when two officers are married, a common situation. “The woman is transferred to one place, the man somewhere else. The woman has gotten another man, the husband had an affair with another woman. They come back and they don?t know who brought the disease,” said a source living in Kampala police barracks. The source said it?s common to find female police officers who have several children that all have different fathers. “A woman is doing training and she gets pregnant. Then she goes to Arua and she gets a child with a civilian and then she?s transferred to Kampala and gets another one,” he said.

-Police barracks are environments conducive for casual sex Moiti agrees that the frequent transfers in an officer?s career make fidelity difficult. “The officer is transferred to another station and he?ll need someone to assist him in cooking and washing so he?ll find a woman and he?ll have sex with her,” Moiti said. “He won?t ask the woman to go for testing and she won?t ask him because a police officer should be treated with due respect.” Promiscuity is rampant due to the general layout of a typical police barracks. At Nsambya barracks, one of the biggest in East Africa, junior officers are subjected to squalid living conditions where the few available houses or uniports are shared amongst officers. The close proximity of females and males in conditions of little or no privacy creates an environment conducive for casual sex. This is compounded by circumstances where one officer is on night duty and the other on day. Also, with the extended family tendencies, many relatives and other dependants come to live in the barracks. “You?ll find kids sleeping under the bed because that is the only room,” said a barracks resident.

-Rape is rampant, many are reckless Paradoxically, rape is also common in the barracks, according to residents, and it is believed to be related to high alcoholism rates. Because officers are frustrated by poverty (on average, a Police officer at constable level earns Shs152,000), many turn to alcohol and sex. “Many are reckless,” said the barracks resident. Police officers who patrol areas where prostitutes operate such as the street near Speke Hotel or Luwum Street near Sax Pub, are rumoured to demand free sex from prostitutes who don?t want to be arrested. Other police officers force female detainees into sex, a situation that exposes them to higher risks of acquiring HIV/Aids.

-Give me sex and I?ll give you promotion. (But don?t quote me on that) Also, according to one female police officer Daily Monitor talked to, higher-ranking police officers ask for sex from female police officers in exchange for promotions. All of these accusations were denied by the high-ranking police officers . In fact, the HIV-positive officer talked to says he believes he got Aids before he became a policeman. Still, he thinks if more HIV positive officers speak out about their status, the rates will decline. “I?ve spoken out to the police,” he said. “I want my colleagues to be aware. I don?t want them to follow the same path I?ve taken.” But his request to remain anonymous for the interview speaks volumes about the extent to which those infected and affected by the scourge out there, particularly in the police force, are ready to open up.

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