BY EDWIN MUSONI
The First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said that Rwanda cannot afford to lose more of her people over HIV/Aids, and appealed for more support to people living with the pandemic.
“Thirteen years ago, Rwanda lost a million people in just 100 days (of Genocide). We simply cannot afford losing any more people to an affliction we can do something about,” Mrs.Kagame said while officially closing 2007 HIV/Aids Implementers’ meeting at Jali Club on Tuesday.
The First Lady also appreciated the courage of people living with the virus, and called for a total end of social stigma they face.
“I appeal for their support as we work to build a culture of understanding and responsibility; together we can show our brothers and sisters that the war can only be won if we have no new infections,” she appealed.
In a passionate appeal, Mrs Kagame urged delegates to earnestly advocate for and exercise care to the already infected people, and challenged them to give HIV a human face.
She said: “Aids does not make any social judgment… too often we are elaborate in our effort to protect the reputation of the wealth and we say they died of ailments other than Aids, but we are quick to judge the poor as irresponsible when they are victims of the HIV.”
She called on parents to save the next generation: “How can we parents shy away from saving the lives of the next generation; we cannot be caught saying that ‘if only I had’”.
In his remarks, the US Global Aids Coordinator, Ambassador Mark Dybul, praised Mrs Kagame for her efforts in the fight against HIV/Aids.
He added that Mrs Kagame’s struggle has led to many lives being saved not only in Rwanda but also in other parts of the world. Mrs Kagame is particularly revered by many for initiating projects that boost families’ capacity to fight the pandemic and to take care of the infected people.
Calls for women empowerment
Meanwhile, delegates at the meeting called for empowerment of HIV/Aids infected women and girls.
Mary Fisher, an advocate of people living with the virus, said that women empowerment would reduce stigma and encourage them to have hope for the future.
“HIV positive women can be empowered by creating employment for them. Without empowerment, life is meaningless to them,” said Fisher, who is also HIV positive.
Fisher appealed for the assistance to HIV positive persons in poor countries saying, “Aids within poverty is the worst thing for an HIV positive person; overcoming poverty is justice.”
The Executive Secretary of the National Aids Control Commission, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, presented Rwanda’s achievements in empowering people living with HIV/Aids, adding that the country also managed to significantly reduce HIV prevalence rate.
Addressing journalists shortly after the four-day meeting on Tuesday, the State Minister for HIV/Aids and other Infectious Diseases, Dr Innocent Nyaruhirira, said that Rwanda has had a moment of sharing her experience with the outside world.
He also said that Rwanda had registered significant progress in empowering HIV+ persons compared to many other countries.
Walter Francoise, a Rwandan who is HIV positive, also said that when women are empowered, they feel the pride of life.
The meeting, which attracted about 2,000 delegates from around the world, was earlier scheduled to be held in Morocco but was later switched to Rwanda on grounds that the latter was a case study in effective use and management of HIV/Aids funds.
A huge number of international stakeholders in the HIV fight attended the meeting which was held at Jali Club, but had group meetings both at Kigali Serena Hotel and Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.
During the conference, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/Aids (GNP+) served as the official advisory group in as far as ensuring representation of people living with HIV/Aids was concerned.
Participants exchanged ideas on how to build capacity of local programmes involved in prevention, treatment and care; maintaining quality control; and coordinating efforts.
The meeting came on the heels of US President George Bush’s May 30 announcement that he would work with Congress to double the US commitment to fight HIV around the world to $30 billion.
The move seeks to re-authorise the legislation that established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was initiated by Bush himself four years ago. The Fund operates in various fifteen countries, thirteen of them from Africa (including Rwanda), and is using a whopping $15 billion.
The 2008 HIV/Aids Implementers’ Meeting will be held in Kampala, Uganda in June.