LUKAYA, UGANDA (January 17, 2013) – AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been providing lifesaving treatment and testing for HIV/AIDS to nearly 40,000 patients in eight districts in Uganda for more than ten years through its respected UGANDA CARES program, including at Healthcare Centres in Kampala, Masaka, Soroti, Rakai, Lyantonde, Gomba, Tororo, Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu, and Butambala.
But when its newest healthcare centre opened this week in Lukaya, about 115 kilometres (70 miles) south of Kampala and just south of the Equator, with a march and gala dedication ceremony Friday, January 18th featuring Mrs. Janet Kataha Museveni, First Lady of Uganda as Guest of Honor, AHF turned a new page in the care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda: The new Lukaya facility also includes an adjacent commercial and residential complex that will financially support medical endeavors at the clinic and also promote socio-economic empowerment and business development in the greater community of Kalungu District. The site, on the heavily travelled Kampala-Masaka Highway, also affords the world’s largest AIDS service organization an innovative location to fight the spread of the virus among commercial sex workers and their clients, including long-distance truck drivers, two of the most at-risk and difficult-to-reach demographics in Uganda’s population.
“Opening day ceremonies began with a march through Lukaya to the clinic site which was flagged off by His Worship Gerald Majera Ssenyondo, Mayor of the Lukaya Town Council, and attended by over 1,000 people” said Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor, Africa Bureau Chief for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who is based in Kampala. “AHF President Michael Weinstein, AHF board members, the UGANDA CARES management team members, Kalungu district officials, partners, and patients all joined in the march, and the event’s guest of honor, Mrs. Janet Kataha Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, then formally dedicated and commissioned the two buildings. It was an uplifting day in our fight against AIDS in Uganda.”
Events following the commissioning — which was signified not by a ribbon cutting, but by the First Lady unveiling a brass plaque dedicating the facility — include speeches, patient testimonies, and entertainment performed by patients and AHF partner groups. The day closed with friendly soccer matches between the UGANDA CARES team and Kalungu district officials.
“It was a glorious function,” said Henry Magala, AHF’s Country Program Director for Uganda. “The testimonies of transformed lives were touching and communicated much more than the structures we dedicated. But of course, the magnificence of the building was irresistible as well.”
“We had an outstanding event today. There was a crowd in the thousands, many dignitaries, impeccable logistics and of course a gorgeous facility,” said Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President. “We sincerely thank the First Lady for joining us to commission the buildings, and we commend our Uganda team and partners for all of their hard work that brought about this remarkable accomplishment.”
The two buildings, financed by AHF and which took eleven months to build, are situated on two acres of private land right alongside the Kampala-Masaka Highway, a location that allows commercial sex workers and long-distance truck drivers, who are often marginalized from accessing medical care—and often HIV positive without knowing it, and as a result, may pass their HIV infections on due to having multiple concurrent sexual partners in the various towns they pass through—easy access to testing and lifesaving treatment.
The single-story clinic will accommodate up to 300 patients on a daily basis and boasts a large waiting area that can hold up to 100 people at a time; six consultation rooms; three counseling rooms; three isolation rooms for those being treated for commutable diseases like tuberculosis; a ten-bed observation room for seriously ill patients awaiting transfer to a hospital; a pharmacy with a dispensary; a main laboratory and an additional mini lab; sluice and sterilization rooms; conference rooms; eight offices; 18 washrooms for staff and patients; and data, records, and archives rooms.
The starter staff for the medical center will include one doctor, one clinical officer, three nurses, one lab technician, one counselor, and one pharmacy dispenser. Friday’s grand opening has been preceded by weeklong testing events, including moonlight testing events in Lukaya. The center is operated by UGANDA CARES, AHF’s local service branch formed in conjunction with the Ugandan Ministry of Health.
Government health officials including the State Minister of Health and Dr. David Kihumuro Apuuli, the Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, also attended the festive opening gala. Dr. Apuuli commended AHF for being the first AIDS service organization working to fight AIDS in Uganda to recognize the potential for economic sustainability in HIV treatment and testing, as this new centre achieves with its attached commercial complex.
“As in India, the trucker route is a roadmap for HIV transmission,” said Terri Ford, AHF’s Chief of Global Policy and Advocacy. “Truck drivers may have time to test, but until now, not to get treatment. This will be the first clinic right on the highway where truckers can be regular patients at a clinic – they can stop there every two months for their medication and condoms. It is really an example of making antiretroviral treatment accessible and convenient.”
In addition to reaching some of the highest risk demographics in Lukaya, the new clinic will also take pressure off AHF UGANDA CARES’ Masaka clinic 34 kilometres (21 miles) to the south and make treatment much more accessible and convenient for existing AHF clients in Lukaya, including Mariam Nazziwa, 9, who recently rode on AHF’s award-winning 2013 Tournament of Roses float “The Global Face of AIDS” in Pasadena, Calif. on New Year’s Day. Mariam previously had to commute an hour to Masaka for treatment, but now has to merely walk out of her front door and across the street to the new healthcare center.
The economic growth that will be generated by the center’s Commercial Complex is a welcome prospect in Lukaya, where the financial needs of the community go hand-in-hand with the medical need to combat the devastation from HIV/AIDS. The two-story commercial building with disabled access – which stands in front of the smaller medical treatment center in order to afford patients a level of privacy when they go for treatment – has space for a restaurant, six single-bedroom apartments, and rental space for banking halls, conference halls, and retail stores. The revenue from these businesses will ensure program sustainability through locally generated income, and also provide socio-economic empowerment to the people of Lukaya through business skills development, promotion of a savings culture, and provision of micro business loans.