KAMPALA, Uganda — By the end of the 1980s, the landlocked Eastern African nation of Uganda was in the midst of an HIV/AIDS pandemic that had ravaged Africa and the rest of the world since the first documented incidences in the mid to late 1970s. In fact, the earliest data that UNAIDS reported in 1990 estimated that over 850,000 Ugandans were living with HIV, with over 110,000 new infections in that same year. Here is some information about HIV in Uganda and The Faithful House, an organization working toward eliminating HIV by strengthening marriages.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a highly transmissible virus that spreads primarily through unprotected sex or by the sharing of injection drug equipment. Untreated HIV infections eventually led to AIDS, a disease with a typical three-year survival rate that severely depletes the infected host’s immune system leaving them at a high risk of death as a result of infection from other illnesses. Currently, no effective cure exists for HIV. Therefore, intervention efforts have focused primarily on the prevention of new infection as well as some available antiretroviral treatments that have proven to slow the progression of the HIV infection once infected but are less available in developing nations.
HIV in Uganda
As the disease progressed in the 1990s, Uganda was one of few nations in the world that saw impressive responses to this growing concern. Given the nature of how HIV spreads throughout communities, overarching national approaches to combatting HIV focused on interventions such as abstinence, being faithful and using condoms (broadly termed as the “ABC” method of HIV prevention). Researchers have conducted significant research on how Uganda may have been so successful with these initiatives, and without discrediting the impact that abstinence and the use of condoms may have had, many sources now point to monogamous relationships as a crucial intervention in this battle.
Support for theories of the importance of monogamy indicates a notable historical reduction in the number of sexual partners for Ugandan men as compared to other African nations. In fact, surveys from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate a near 50% reduction in the number of surveyed men with two or more sexual partners between 1989 and 1995, which also correlates with the initial decline of new HIV infections in Uganda.
Despite the historical success of Uganda at reducing the number of new infections each year, UNAIDS reported that there were still over 50,000 new HIV infections in 2019 leaving a total of around 1.5 million Ugandans currently battling HIV/AIDS. The need for sustained HIV prevention efforts is ever-present in Uganda and throughout Africa, and for Gonzaga and Paskazia Lubega of Uganda, these efforts have revolved around the successful development of The Faithful House program.
The Faithful House
In 2004, Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones, a licensed physician in obstetrics and family medicine from Butte, Montana, approached Gonzaga and Paskazia. Dr. Mulcaire-Jones had previously founded the organization Maternal Life International in 1997 with primary efforts focused on providing direct maternal and infant care and training in multiple African countries. Through the incredible efforts of Gonzaga and Paskazia, Maternal Life International had successfully expanded efforts to include HIV care and prevention by the end of 2005. This partnership flourished, with primary efforts in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia eventually extending into Haiti, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Somalia and many other African countries. As of now, The Faithful House program has reached around 200,000 couples throughout Africa and in Haiti.
“Affirming Life, Avoiding Risk”
The Faithful House program comprises a core couples training program addressing HIV prevention through the establishment of strong marriages and families. This program “underscores the faithfulness in building strong and committed marriages and healthy families” through a well-researched and faith-based set of training modules. Seeing a marital partnership as a house allows for couples to analyze aspects of their own house or relationship that may be broken and address how to repair these problems through the teachings. Training includes week-long sessions and three-day sessions as well as flexible scheduling for couples who may not both be able to attend on consecutive days. The well-structured makeup of these modules allows for past participants to widely distribute these training and techniques throughout their own countries and communities.
As the primary directors of Maternal Life Uganda and The Faithful House, Gonzaga and Paskazia now also have a team of trained couples working with them to provide access to these Faithful House teachings efficiently throughout Uganda and Africa. Though this program was initially Christianity-based, it has expanded to accommodate multiple different religions including the teachings of The Islamic Family House. Different organizations and churches throughout Africa primarily deliver these training sessions, however, Gonzaga and Paskazia have also seen local leaders and governments requesting training within their respective communities.
While speaking with The Borgen Project, co-director Gonzaga Lubega affirmed the incredible impact that this program has had in Uganda and in other African countries he and Paskazia have visited. “Challenging African couples, including challenging African men to work together with their wives, have promoted monogamy in communities that had been more of a polygamous culture.” Promoting this responsibility to men in the program has proven effective in HIV prevention efforts, however, Gonzaga has also noticed that this training positively impacted couples and communities in many other ways. He noted that “before trainings, we have noticed families not being able to produce enough for food because all of the work is left to the wives and the girls, and getting men and boys involved in this has made a very big difference in families.” He has seen these stronger marriages improve the family’s ability to take care of their children through cooperation and a combined effort from both husband and wife.
As licensed marriage counselors, Gonzaga and Paskazia Lubega have been offering support to couples and communities in Uganda long before the establishment of Maternal Life International. In addition to The Faithful House, Gonzaga and Paskazia have also involved themselves in the development of The Couple Bead Method as well as the development of a large community garden. Produce from the garden goes directly to those in need within the community along with the profits from the surplus vegetables grown in the garden.
Along with Dr. Mulcaire-Jones and Maternal Life International, they are aiding in the future development of the St. Joseph Family Life Center in Masaka, Uganda. Based on the proven sustainable impact The Faithful House program has had, Gonzaga sees the development of this center as a great opportunity to provide a larger number of couples with training that they can then implement within their own communities.
Plans for the St. Joseph Family Life Center also include opportunities for training pastoral, religious and community leaders as well as health care professionals on family life and safe birth programs. Currently, the main training hall has undergone completion and is in use while more work is occurring through the collection of donations to provide funding for the further development of the Family Life Center.
– Jackson Thennis