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Rakai Health
Sciences Program

History of the Program

Where We Work


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Where we work

Rakai District

Village in Rakai District
Visit the photo gallery  for more photos of Rakai District.
Rakai, located in the south-west portion of Uganda, is one of the 56 administrative districts of Uganda. According to the 1991 census, 96.1 percent of Rakai’s population lives in a rural area, and 76.7 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming that produces bananas, cassava, maize, beans, sugar cane, and passion fruit. Because of its location near Lake Victoria, the District has both swampy and forested areas and lies in a modified equatorial climate. Until 1990, Rakai District was one of the poorest and neglected districts in the country. It was at the periphery of development, having suffered the 1972 and 1979 wars. The first cases of HIV/AIDS were detected in Uganda. However, since 1990, the District has received significant attention from the government, NGOs, and donor agencies.

Project Setting

Evolution of the Rakai Program physical infrastructure

Since 1988, the Rakai Health Sciences Program has manned a research, data, and administrative infrastructure at the Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe and in Kalisizo, Rakai District. This infrastructure was made possible through funding provided by NIH, World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WRAIR and other sponsors. In Kalisizo, the Program rented more than 10 buildings, most of which had been renovated to accommodate expanding activities. Infrastructure development in Kalisizo included the installation of water tanks, electrical generators, a large incinerator for biohazardous waste, a fuel (gas) pump station, parking services, and a maintenance garage for the fleet of 17 vehicles.

Space constraints in the rented buildings in Kalisizo severely limited the Program’s ability to take on new research, clinical care of HIV+ persons, and training. In 2001, the Kalisizo Town Council donated land to enable the construction of a permanent research and clinical facility in the District.

The new Rakai Health Sciences Center

Entrance to the Rakai facility

Visit the photo gallery for more photos of the new Rakai Health Sciences Center.

This new complex opened in May 2005 and provides a state-of-the-art research center with extensive space for laboratories, data management, and data storage, as well as clinical facilities, training facilities, and offices for scientists.

Funding for the building was received from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University, and through University loans. A contract through NIH/NIAID International Center for Excellence in Research is equipping the laboratory.

The laboratory is an air-conditioned, 3,600-square-foot, state-of–the-art facility. It includes rooms designated for lab accession, clinical microbiology, tissue culture, serology, nucleic acid amplification, and laboratory support.

The clinical facility includes a patient waiting and reception area, an outpatient clinic, a pharmacy, an x-ray room, four examination rooms, two operating theaters, a sluice, an autoclave, and storage, as well as patient changing rooms and offices for surgical staff. The two theaters, designed for outpatient surgery, are mainly used for male circumcision at this time, but will provide facilities for colposcopy and other procedures.

Voices from Rakai

Gertrude Nakigozi

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Most patients who come here perceive themselves to be HIV positive. The majority actually come in to confirm their suspicions. But still there are a few who are surprised by HIV-positive results. We let them know that being HIV positive does not mean they need ARVs. We try to educate them about CD4 counts and tell them they can always come back and receive treatment for any illness. You find a few patients who keep saying, Don’t you think I’m ready for ARVs? Or they plead to have their CD4 counts retested. We resort to ARVs only when we have to.

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Gertrude Nakigozi, MBChB
Coordinator, Mobile Antiretroviral Clinic

Center for Global Health


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Rakai Health Sciences Program

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Uganda Virus Research Institute

National Institute of Health