Impeccable statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that the fight against HIV/Aids is bearing fruits despite prevalence raging on.
Rwanda’s HIV/Aids prevalence is 3 per cent, an equivalent of about 400,000 people. Dr Sabin Nsanzimana the coordinator of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Care and Treatment Department at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) told The New Times a fortnight ago that the rate of new infections was at 25,000 people every year five years ago, but it has drastically gone down to 15,000.
Dr Sabin said government is putting in place several initiatives to ensure a 0 per cent record of new infections by 2015, the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target.
In 2011, 2.5 million people worldwide were infected with HIV, according to UNAIDS. An estimated 1.7 million people died, that is, 700,000 fewer new infections worldwide than 10 years ago, and 600,000 fewer deaths than in 2005.
Rwanda’s gains in Aids fight are due to several initiatives in place, including adequate supply of anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs), Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT), encouraging effective use of condoms or abstinence or having faithful marriages.
Meanwhile, the latest global statistics suggest that provided countries are able to sustain current efforts, the target of zero new infections is within reach—there is two-and-a-half years to go.
The governments, development partners, civil society, private sector have weighed in their efforts to combat the scourge that was first discovered in the US in 1981 and the struggle continues. More than three decades on, the impetus to find a sustainable solution is still mind-blowing to not only scientists but also the clergy and the native healers.
But Society for Family Health (SFH), a Rwandan social marketing NGO and a member of the Population Services International global network, believes that the most sustainable way to combat HIV/Aids is by preaching the gospel of “behavioural shange”. SFH, under the USAID five-year funded Behaviour Change and Social Marketing (BCSM) program has been laying the foundation to ensure that Rwandans change their health behaviors so they can prevent most of the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/Aids.
In an exclusive interview, Jean Bosco Kwizera, the manager of HIV Programme at SFH, said although the NGO distributes condoms (Prudence and Plasir brands) at subsidised prices and others freely throughout the country, the most sustainable way to combat HIV/Aids will be when Rwandans change their sexual behaviour.
Experience has shown that using or not using a condom is a decision based on many personal factors—including financial, mindset, emotional, trust, among others.
Between 2009-2012, a total of 77,962,520 condoms were distributed; more than 52 million through social marketing and more than 25 million freely. But this may not guarantee usage or even proper usage.
That is why SFH HIV Programme aims to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable and at-risk populations by giving them the opportunity, knowledge, skills and access to services they need to protect themselves against HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, alcohol abuse and gender-based violence.
In his detailed explanation, he enlisted some of the strategies used including use of Mass media and Mid-Media to sensitise the community in providing HIV prevention messages, These activities include: production of billboards during planning campaigns, posters, brochures, radio spots, cinemobile and training of peer educator and Interpersonal communications done by trained peers. The beneficiaries of HIV preventions key messages are female sex workers, men having sex with men, truckers, taxi-moto riders, youth out of school and others mobile populations.
SFH is positioned in Rwanda as the largest social marketing organisation with five regional offices across the country, namely Gasabo District for central region, Huye District in southern region, Musanze District in northern region, Muhanga District in western region and Ngoma District in eastern region.
SFH works through community-based organisations in these districts that are tailored to the five intervention areas of the organisation which are HIV prevention, malaria prevention, safe water, nutrition, and family planning.