Of Rwanda’s commitment to end mother-to-child HIV transmission

For Rwanda, you know, we never wait for deadlines,” said Jeannette Kagame, Rwanda’s First Lady, during the official launch of a ground-breaking ‘Free to shine Rwanda Campaign’ at Petit Stade, in Remera, two weeks ago.

It is not the first time Rwanda has sought global goals or set the bar high for others to follow suit. In 2000, when the United Nations adopted the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Rwanda was dealing with fresh wounds and complete socio-economic collapse posed by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

But still, the country showed the world that she was ready to set an example in achieving the global goals by 2015 due to the powerful attachment to improve overall wellbeing of her people.

There was no room for excuse whatsoever, from reducing poverty, promoting gender equality, achieving universal primary education, to promoting environmental sustainability, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS and forging global partnerships. You name it, Rwanda has achieved it.

The journey for economic transformation was just the beginning.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) popped in, everyone was waiting to see how Rwanda would manage to incorporate the new ambitious, complex but yet interconnected goals, and we said, we are ready — we are now on the road to making it by 2030.

Eradicating mother-to-child HIV transmission in Africa by 2030

Three years down from a remarkable signing and adoption of the SDGs, the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) and the African Union launched a global health campaign dubbed “ Free to Shine Campaign” earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the ultimate goal to end childhood AIDS by 2030 and keep mothers healthy.

The campaign further seeks to unite people and organisations at local and global levels, and support personal and collective understanding of the actions to advance healthcare delivery that will contribute to ending childhood AIDS. The campaign reinforces the political commitment of African nations to ensure an HIV-free generation by 2030.

“All countries should eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, and ensure that every child has an HIV-free start to his or her life,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS said.

Free to Shine Rwanda Campaign:

A game-changer initiative

Mrs Kagame is widely regarded as a champion of mothers and young adolescents due to her efforts to improve maternal and adolescent health over the past two decades through her brainchild initiative – Imbuto Foundation. It came to no one’s surprise that she is championing ‘Free to Shine Rwanda’.

It was a different day in the country. Mothers, young adolescents, teachers, community health workers, healthcare professionals, international organisations, the Ministry of Health, UN agencies, development agencies, donors, and other actors in the sexual and reproductive health and rights arena, were all represented to witness a new chapter in the ongoing fight against HIV.

In her address during the launch of the campaign, three key points stood out:

1. The campaign is ambitious and attainable

Building on previous successes, there should be no doubt that this commitment will be translated into reality. For example in 2011, the First Lady, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, PEPFAR and UNICEF, launched a national campaign for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission with an ambition to slash the numbers from 4.3 per cent in 2011 to less than 2 per cent in 2015.

Rwanda is now at 1.5 per cent.

“Through this campaign, African Union (AU) and OAFLA are determined for HIV free in infants in Africa by 2030, but for Rwanda, you know, we never wait for deadlines,” Jeannette Kagame said, emphasising that “A free HIV Rwanda is possible. Umwana Wanjye, Ishema Ryanjye, should be a contract performance for every parent.”

2. Accountability and zero complacency

Arguably the most touching message of the day was the emphasis on avoiding complacency and strengthening accountability mechanisms at all levels to ensure the mission is achieved. She also stressed on the importance of gathering and using quality data to inform policy makers and push for timely interventions.

“It is therefore imperative that we keep the momentum, and remember that complacency is in fact, a significant threat in the fight against HIV epidemic,” she said.

 3. Strong call for multi-sectorial partnership

The need for partnership was another powerful talking point of the day.

The First Lady reiterated the importance of partnership over the past years and urged for more in the coming days. The campaign is already supported by big players in global health arena such as; WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, AIDS Accountability International and UNDP to name a few.

However, she stressed that the partnership should go beyond that, adding that every sector needs to be involved, from individuals and the government, to private sector and the civil society.

The author is the CEO of Unitia Pharmaceuticals.