It’s almost 25 years since the first person was diagnosed with Aids in Rwanda. Over this period, a lot of lives have been lost. The occurrence of Genocide in 1994 aggravated the issue for the country since the spreading of HIV/Aids was used by the perpetrators as a tool of Genocide.
The number of infected people, especially Rwandan women, skyrocketed as a result of this. Add to the fact that after the Genocide, the Government of Rwanda had a whole country to restore with almost no resources at all; any breakthrough in the fight against HIV/Aids at that time looked almost hopeless.
But due to commitment, strong will and persistence of the Government, with the assistance of various partners thanks to the international attention to the epidemic, efforts were put in place in record time and slowly but surely, the spread of HIV/Aids started to be rolled back. We are now counting almost 14 years since the Genocide and a lot of victories have been registered at the battlefront with the disease.
Rwanda’s success story is mainly due to Government’s recognition of the fact that to achieve its Vision 2020, one of the conditions has to be in investing in the health of our people and communities. Sickness limits people’s output hence slowing the rate of development.
That is why, with the help of development partners, the Government has, and continues to invest a lot in terms of resources and efforts to ensure a healthy population. This is mainly evident in efforts geared towards strengthening the health system through innovative programmes, such the ‘Mutuelles de santé’, the contractual approach, and a continuous appeal for integrated HIV/Aids programmes.
This is what gives me a lot of hope and belief that we have the potential to completely eliminate HIV/Aids in Rwanda. Our well designed Aids programmes have managed not only to change the hitherto seemingly unstoppable spread of the disease but also managed to improve the lives of the population, especially those already infected, and children born of infected mothers.
Thus, how can we manage to totally eliminate HIV/Aids? The secret lies in targeting the youth, the generation of tomorrow.
Efforts should mainly be directed towards young girls, the future mothers. In that aspect, sufficient resources should be dedicated to preventive programmes like the Integrated VCT in general and the PMTCT in particular in order to facilitate extensive testing of all, particularly pregnant women and making a follow up accordingly to ensure that unborn children come into this world virus free and live their lives to the full.
In that regard, our policy might consider extending the Integrated VCT beyond the health facilities and reach youth centres, religious facilities, etc.
Parents and leaders should also stand up strong and instil values in young children for them to grow up in a healthy manner and become responsible adults. One of the main reasons for the spread of HIV/Aids is the lack of important values like fidelity and respect between partners. Young people should be taught the importance of love; to love, respect and take time to listen and talk to each other as partners.
Parents should endeavour to be bold and talk to their children about their sexuality, sexual hygiene, and circumcision, the use of condoms, to name a few important issues to be discussed in families.
We should shun the traditional beliefs that sex is a hush-hush issue that should be confined to the bedroom. Sex is natural and whether we like it or not, time will come when children will want to discover on their own, and the results are often disastrous if children are not well prepared.
For our country to be successful and respond to our valuable vision, we do not have any choice than pushing behind us this development crippling disease once and for all and look ahead.
If we are to achieve our development targets, we need to channel the millions and millions of efforts and funds that we are currently using in the HIV/Aids battle to other valuable development programmes, such as quality education and access to quality health for all, and investing in modern and countrywide infrastructures for all communities.
Let us all work together towards making Aids history in Rwanda!
The writer is the Minister of State in charge of HIV/Aids and other epidemics in the Ministry of Health. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org