Free army condoms, circumcisions as Uganda marks ‘Tarehe Sita’

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On February 6 of every year, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) celebrates the anniversary of the five-year guerrilla war that ultimately propelled President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) to power in 1986.

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This year, the UPDF will mark the occasion – known as “Tarehe Sita” – with various activities, including a weeklong health drive in which free condoms will be distributed, free HIV tests conducted and free circumcisions performed.

“We had a medical outreach at the landing site where we carried out safe male circumcision, because they have a high-risk population of fishermen, fish traders and residents,” Major Chris Magezi, spokesman for the UPDF’s Special Forces Command, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

In 2010, Uganda’s Health Ministry launched a safe male circumcision policy aimed at curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS after a study found that male circumcision reduced the risk of HIV infection in men by an average of 60 percent.

Other free medical services offered by the army this week included eye tests, dental services, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, and malaria testing and treatment, along with checkups for hypertension and diabetes. The army has also donated an assortment of drugs and various medical supplies to local health centers and hospitals. “We believe healthy and motivated human resources are the best asset for any country,” said Magezi.

“We want to make a contribution to the country’s health sector, because we know most people take these [health] tests for granted, yet they should know their health status,” he added. Thursday’s Tarehe Sita celebrations will commemorate a 1981 attack on a military barracks that sparked the five-year guerrilla war that finally ended on January 26, 1986.

-Free condoms-

According to army spokesman Lt. Colonel Paddy Ankunda, the army has so far distributed 43,000 free condoms, conducted 630 HIV tests and performed 330 male circumcisions countrywide. “These exercises are continuous because we know the civilian population needs it and we shall climax tomorrow as we mark Tarehe Sita,” he told AA.

But it isn’t only about improving civilian health, Ankunda stressed. “We’re also reconstructing roads and renovating schools,” he said. “This is being done by different teams in various districts.” Army troops are also busy this week cleaning, washing, sweeping and collecting garbage.

On Saturday, the Special Forces Command began its campaign with Kampala’s Mulago National Referral Hospital, the largest hospital in the country. They washed beds in different wards of the hospital and cleaned up the laboratory and the pediatrics and the outpatient departments.

“We’re cleaning up the towns to ensure civilians are in clean and healthy environments,” command spokesman Magezi said. “We also repaired the hospital’s lighting system, malfunctioning light bulbs, tubes and electric sockets,” he added. “I must say,” he concluded, “we left the hospital well lit that day.”

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