Letter: Aids vaccine hope

Sir: Your report singles out Uganda as one country in Africa where HIV infection among pregnant women has fallen. You fail to mention, however, that increased condom use and improved sexual health education are not the only reasons for this reduction.

One of the unique features of the Ugandan Aids scene is the government's openness on the subject, so that everyone can talk about what elsewhere in Africa may be a taboo subject, thus facilitating the transmission of health information.

Even more important,is the quite extraordinary way in which Aids widows have organised themselves into self-help groups, assisting each other to manage their lives, their income-generation, agriculture, health needs and the education of their children (often HIV-infected) so that they can manage economically without the need for sexual partnerships with men.

One lesson to be learnt from the Ugandan experience is that much greater support needs to be given to the widows of men who have died of Aids.

These poor women are often blamed for their husbands' illness and are rarely followed up with medical monitoring and practical help. Their wretched circumstances, poverty, oppression and stigma often force them to be dependent on a series of men, thus risking either transmitting or receiving the virus.

Alongside condoms and sex education, the best defence to the spread of Aids in Africa is promoting the status of women and supporting grass-roots widows' groups such as those which have been so successful in Uganda.

MARGARET OWEN

Director

Empowering Widows in Development

London W14

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