This is a guest post by Brooke Bocast, a PhD candidate in anthropology at Temple University and a visiting predoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on gender, consumption, and higher education in Uganda.
Uganda’s HIV rates are on the rise again. According to the 2011Uganda Aids Indicator Survey, 7.3 percent of the population is HIV positive, compared with 6.4 percent in 2005. International donors, NGOs, and the Ugandan government are scrambling to account for, and retard, this latest trend.
UNAIDS points to cross-generational sexual relationships, commonly referred to as “sugar daddy” relationships, as a significant driver of intergenerational HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. These relationships run rampant on college campuses across Uganda, and other African nations. University women tend to date wealthy older men in exchange for luxury commodities and entry into the Uganda’s booming, and increasingly high-end, nightlife scene.
The mural in the photo above on an academic building on the Makerere University campus in Kampala, in which a young woman is exhorted to reject such material incentives and “care about tomorrow,” exemplifies public health measures to counteract this phenomenon. However, such campaigns have so far failed to galvanize Ugandan youth. In the words of one female student, “no one is going to tell me not to see a sugar daddy, when that is what makes me happy.” It is tempting to dismiss such statements as youthful impertinence, but this simple declaration comprises complex desires for romance, security, and the promises of a “modern” life.
Young women’s values and sentiments, like those expressed above, undergird the latest developments in Uganda’s HIV transmission patterns. As PEPFAR continues to fund expansive HIV prevention programs in Uganda and surrounding countries—in many cases targeting youth—it behooves us to take seriously these young people’s assertions. After all, a sick population is an insecure population, and Uganda’s college campuses may be getting sicker.