Nine-year - old Jean Marie‘s mother died when he was only two years old. His father passed away a year after.
“I was very depressed and knew nothing about what caused their death,” the boy said.
Jean was taken for testing, only to realise that he was infected with HIV/Aids transmitted from his parents.
Today, Jean is one of the millions of orphans living positively with HIV. Globally the number of children under 15 years living with HIV is estimated at 2.5 million, and according to the UNAIDS 2007 report on HIV/Aids infections in the world, nearly 90 per cent of the infected children live in sub Saharan Africa.
Rwanda, being among the sub Saharan countries, has strongly taken a stand against the HIV infection and apparently, there are various programmes in place that have helped to ensure that the infection levels go down.
Part of the programmed is the Annual Paediatric Conference, used to showcase the achievements of the Government and development partner’s in curbing HIV/Aids infection levels is in the country. It is during the conference that new strategies of lowering infections levels are suggested.
The ‘Fourth Annual Paediatric Conference recently concluded in Kigali “under the theme ‘Equity in Financing Services for HIV Infected and Affected Children’, the conference recommended that vulnerable children should be able to enjoy their rights as well.
The conference was attended by over 300 participants who included international and national researchers, development practitioners, experts and Rwandan children.
According to Dr. Anita Asiimwe, the Executive Secretary of National Aids Control Commission (CNLS), most Rwandan children were left as orphans as a result of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide while others lost their parents to HIV, a few years after the genocide.
“Such children are deprived of the basics such as health, nutrition and education among others, however the government has taken up this responsibility and apparently, there are enough services to look after them,” she said.
The government has for example put in place orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) policy and developed a minimum package the care and support to needy children.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Sezibera who officiated at the closing of the conference said government will continue supporting the vulnerable children through meeting their needs as well as fighting the spread of HIV in general.
The minister believes working together, having a concrete budget plan and monitory policy is imperative if resources are to reach the intended.
Government has also stepped up advocacy, financing and good coordination of stakeholders involved in the fight against HIV/Aids infections.
The country has already documented a great increase in the number of sites offering HIV testing and also in people accessing HIV testing.
A United Nations General Assembly report of 2007, shows that 472,194 tests were conducted and 96.7 per cent of the persons tested received their results.
Since 90 percent of the infected children worldwide get the virus from their mothers at birth, Rwanda introduced prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services in 1999, such that infected children can receive special treatment while expectant infected mothers are treated to avoid infection. Today, 73 percent of the health facilities offer PMTCT.
The Health minister stressed that deliberations from the conference will inform the implementation of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) and the development of the social policy, “Your efforts through the national conferences help the country towards achievement of Millennium Development Goals that are aimed at combating HIV/Aids and reaching universal access targets for prevention, protection, treatment care and support”.
Although Rwanda has advanced significantly in implementing the HIV and Aids interventions specifically in PMTCT and in care and treatment, more is needed to stop new infections in the population and also in the area of protection of children affected by the epidemic ensuring that there is equity in distribution of services.