A total of 18,000 more Ugandans are to receive free anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs from Mildmay Centre, the charitys country director, Dr. Emmanuel Luyirika, announced yesterday. This is after Mildmay received a five-year grant of $38.5m (about sh86.5b) from the Centres for Disease Control of the US government. Luyirika made the disclosure during a press conference at the Mildmay centre at Lweza on Entebbe Road. He said the beneficiaries will also get other free services such as counselling. The move will reduce the number of people who need but cannot get ARVs due to limited supplies to 133,100, down from 151,100. This is a 12% reduction. Early this year, the Uganda Aids Commission announced that over 442,000 people needed ARVs, but only half could receive; however, the statistics improved when the US government offered to enroll 72,000 more people on free ARVs. Currently Mildmay supports over 22,000 people living with HIV, half of whom are on ARVs and about 4,000 are children. Another 60% are women, most from the reproductive age. Luyirika explained that the new beneficiaries will come from the central region and will receive the services from their districts and not at the Mildmay headquarters. The national HIV prevalence rate currently stands at 6.4%. However, due to the high number of new infections each year, the demand for ARVs has been increasing. Luyirika was optimistic that the US grant would consolidate and expand Mildmays work in Uganda, despite some setbacks the charity has been facing in the past months. This is an opportunity for us to grow and develop as an organization, focus on the things we do well, work more efficiently, and continue to offer care of the highest quality to thousands of Ugandans, he said. However, Luyirika called for more funding, especially from the private sector, to enable the organisation meet its financial challenges like maintaining the childrens 33-bed pediatric unit. He said the unit, which offers acute care, rehabilitation and close monitoring for children with advanced HIV symptoms, was cash-strapped and at the brink of closure unless new funding is found. Mildmay spends sh50,000 on each child under the pediatric unit daily, which means $300,000 (about sh673.5m) is required annually to keep it running, said Luyirika. He expressed concern over the high number of children born with HIV and urged pregnant women to seek services of qualified medical personnel so that they do not transmit the virus to babies. According to Luyirika, one million babies are born in Uganda every year, but over 90,000 of them are born to HIV positive mothers. This is alarming, he said, and requires the Government, media and other stakeholders to augment the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission campaigns. Meanwhile, Luyirika revealed that the Mildmay centre had undergone organisational reforms, including setting up a local board of directors chaired by Makerere University lecturer, Prof. Sam Luboga. The board, Luboga explained, will look for solutions appropriate to the local situation without having to depend on the charitys mother agency- Mildmay international UK.