A study commissioned by Uganda Christian Aids Network (UCAN) indicates that 70 per cent of Christian couples are involved in extramarital relations and mostly with close acquaintances such as friends of their current marriage partners.
These findings, officially released on Friday at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala, come on the backdrop of fears that Uganda is slipping back on the early successes it had achieved in the fight against HIV-Aids.
The HIV/Aids prevalence currently stands at seven per cent and it is believed to be rising, especially among the married.
The study, which was conducted in April 2013, was done jointly by UCAN, National Forum for PHA Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU), National Community of Women Living with HIV (NACWOLA), among others. It focused on attitudes, practices and beliefs on condom use for HIV prevention by Christian couples that are HIV discordant or HIV-positive in Uganda.
It was conducted in 17 districts around the country, namely: Koboko, Nebbi, Moyo (West Nile); Kitgum, Oyam (northern); Moroto (North Eastern); Kamuli, Kapchorwa, Pallisa, Mbale (eastern); Wakiso, Kampala, Luwero, Lyantonde (central); Greater Bushenyi (south western); Kabarole and Hoima (western).
Thirty seven (37) couples were picked from every district, making a total of 1,250 respondents.
Eighty six per cent of the respondents were taken from the economic and reproductive age of 26 to 50 years, while the sex distribution was 625 males and 625 females.
According to the findings, up to 37 per cent of the respondents had cheated on their partners in the last six months of their marriage, while 27 per cent had cheated more than three years ago. At least 16 per cent of the interviewed couples had cheated more than six to 10 years ago, while 20 per cent had cheated more than 10 years ago.
While all the respondents professed Christianity, only 19 per cent of the marriages were described as religious with customary marriages accounting for 41 per cent, cohabiting 38 per cent, civil five per cent and unknown two per cent.
There was no difference in the percentage of partners that were currently involved in extramarital sex across the five denominations.
Thirty-eight per cent were of the Catholic Church, 36.4 per cent were Church of Uganda (Anglican), Pentecostals and the Seventh Day Adventist church each, while 37.5 per cent was the Orthodox Church.
According to the Uganda Census of 2002, Christians make up nearly 86 per cent of the Ugandan population, which implies that any positive behaviour change within the Christian population would directly and significantly impact on the course of the HIV pandemic in the country.
However, Pastor Martin Sempa of Makerere Community Church, says the figures in the report are doubtable.
“Our society has been “over-condomised” and there has not been a policy of encouraging faithfulness in marriages. There has been an effort by the church towards being faithful but various studies with cooked up figures are stigmatising the church’s role and institution of marriage,” said Mr Sempa in a telephone interview.
“The findings of this study have revealed that there is urgent need to address not only risk reduction among HIV-negative people but also the adoption of preventive interventions for those already living with the virus. This translates into a sustained battle against the threats of HIV and Aids,” the report said in part.
Despite the many media messages through various platforms to get people off the “sexual network”, the report clearly states that in every three couples, one has extramarital sexual relations.
The Director General of Uganda Aids Commission (Unaids), Dr Christine Ondoa, noted that the government has been focused on the ABC campaign (Abstinence, Be faithful and use Condom) but the C (condom use) has been silent with a lot more emphasis on abstinence and faithfulness among married couples.
She, however, notes that the donors who fund their HIV campaigns have lately been focused on condom use.
Condom use was indeed assessed in the study and 48 per cent of the respondents blamed their non-condom use to their religious beliefs. Condom usage was found successful among SDA Christians standing at 85 per cent. Only 14 per cent out of those who cheated used a condom.
“HIV discordant couples are not using condoms because their faith does not accept using condoms even when they know the risks are high,” said Samuel Oguttu, the Secretary General for UCAN at the launch of the report.
48 per cent indicated that their faith or religion influenced their failure to use a condom because of the belief that the condom is sinful.
44 per cent of HIV positive discordant couples had been involved in extramarital sex with another person who is in a steady relationship.
40 per cent or two out of four partners were in their first marriage while 54 per cent were in their second marriage.
37 per cent of the respondents had never used a condom in their lives.
60 per cent of the respondents showed health workers as the most trusted on sexual matters as opposed to 24 who mentioned church.
14 per cent of the cheating couples use condoms.
46 per cent indicated that they did not have confidence to freely discus condom use with the church leaders.
80 per cent indicated that they go to church on a daily basis and only six per cent do not go to church.