World Aids Day - Keeping the momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS
A couple from Kinigi, in the Northern Province, tested HIV+ during the prenatal visit for their first child. Devastated by this news, they stopped going to the doctor’s. Realising this couple never came back for their follow-up visits, their nurse enlisted the help of Françoise, an Imbuto Foundation peer educator to go to their home.
Françoise talked to the couple and shared her personal experience as an HIV+ woman, to encourage them to not give up and keep seeking the much-needed health and psychosocial support provided at their health centre.
Thanks to her counselling, they resumed their medical visits and treatments and eventually gave birth to healthy twins.
Stories like this serve as a sobering reminder that the fight against HIV/AIDS is still relevant and far from over. At Imbuto Foundation, we become more hopeful when progress is achieved through programmes like Family Package, dedicated to providing the tailored health support Rwandan communities need to keep the viral load low in infected patients and eliminate the transmission of this virus to the newborn child.
However, one cannot afford to be complacent faced with a mutating virus which has infected 78 million people and claimed the lives of 39 millions since the beginning of the epidemic in the early 1980’s. Vigilance is imperative to give our future generation an HIV-free world. And even more so, knowing that Sub-Saharan Africa carries the bulk of cases with 71% of total number of people living with the virus, and 91% of HIV positive children.
Rwanda strikes a particular chord. Following the Genocide against the Tutsi, it was faced with a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic, partly as a result of the massive rapes used as a weapon of war to deliberately infect women with the virus. The country had to care for hundreds of thousands of HIV/AIDS cases with a virtually nonexistent health infrastructure.
To face these challenges, the government and civil society progressively strengthened our health systems and developed a number of HIV programmes to build the path to Rwanda’s Zero HIV status, by availing ART drugs and emphasizing the prevention of new infections. These vigorous efforts helped achieve a 50% reduction in the number of new infections and almost 80% decline in AIDS-related deaths since 1994.
Today, the number of people living with the virus has been lowered from double digits to a 3% average rate and the Ministry of Health continues to make it a priority to educate the population and eradicate HIV/AIDS.
Aligning with national health priorities, our Foundation focused on equipping vulnerable groups with knowledge on HIV/AIDS through programmes like Family Package, Mountain Movers and Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights.
These programmes are continuously reassessed to provide the best approach to tackle the challenges faced by our communities. For us, responding creatively to the needs of our beneficiaries meant staying ahead of the game by keeping them duly involved and engaged while addressing serious concerns that often remained unvoiced.
Imbuto Foundation started in 2001 with Family Package to deal with the severe HIV/AIDS epidemic post-1994. This project concentrated on HIV+ pregnant mothers with a view to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Now present in 27 health centres of 6 districts, this project continues to provide a variety of services including family planning, male partner involvement, access to medical care and psychosocial support.
The other two projects were designed with the youth in mind, because young people needed tailored programmes to empower them to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Imbuto Foundation involved trained peer educators who promoted positive behaviour among the youth, and set-up youth-friendly services in health centres.
Still in line with our crosscutting approach, Imbuto Foundation tackled the stigma and discrimination preventing some infected groups to seek the care they needed. Fighting ignorance and discrimination was to enable a mindset change to contribute to a reversal in the trend of the disease.
When HIV/AIDS first shook the world as an unknown and complex disease, a wave of fear fuelled untruths and misunderstandings about how it was transmitted and who was more at risk of contracting it. Through education and awareness the world has now gradually come to grasp the fundamentals of the disease and how to better protect itself. Globally, we must relentlessly continue to push for collective efforts to support health experts in finding a cure for a definitive solution.
The world is on a quest to bring the HIV epidemic to zero and strategic steps have brought us closer to this goal.
Together, let us keep the momentum and boldly aim for full eradication.
Urujeni ‘Feza’ Bakuramutsa
Director General at Imbuto Foundation