The dangers of skipping ARVs treatment

The campaign against HIV infection targets all people, especially the youth. / Michel Nkurunziza

Pascaline Uwase is a single mother who left Rusizi District for a domestic job in Kigali a couple of years back.

Unfortunately, she was contaminated with HIV by a young man who also impregnated her.

As fate would have it, she suffered a stillbirth because, she says, she never made it for antenatal care services, which is highly recommended for all pregnant women.

“It was not easy coping with everything, from an unwanted pregnancy, to HIV contamination and then foetal death. However, I later started antiretroviral drugs,” she said.

Uwase got pregnant again, and had domestic work as a source of income. But along the way, she stopped taking the antiretroviral drugs.

“I hadn’t taken the medication in over a month. My body became too weak to carry even one jerry can of water,” she says.

She then met mentors running a campaign against HIV/AIDS under the support of USAID Ubaka Ejo/DREAMS across Kigali.

“I resumed medication. My baby got support and fortunately, turned out HIV negative. I got support in terms of nutrition and I joined a savings association to improve my well-being and that of my baby.

“I urge teenagers and people in general to embrace abstinence or resort to condom use when it comes to sex. I urge those who delay or stop antiretroviral drugs to be careful since I experienced the consequences,” she says.

Uwase is one of the 20 teen mothers being supported in Kimironko sector. Like her, many people who are HIV positive might not be aware of the dangers of skipping antiretroviral medication.

About 114 young women, some former sex workers, are pursuing TVET courses to improve their livelihood. 241 children from mothers with various issues have been returned to school.

Over 75 parents have been equipped with skills to educate youngsters on reproductive health to avoid early pregnancies and HIV contamination, Albert Mabasi, the project coordinator in Kigali City, says.

EFFECTS OF SKIPPING ANTIRETROVIRAL DRUGS

Jeanne Mukarubega, the nurse in charge of HIV/AIDS treatment department at AVEGA Clinic Remera, explains that delaying or stopping antiretroviral drugs poses a great threat to HIV positive people.

These, she says, include secondary diseases such as tuberculosis, zona disease that attacks the skin, meningitis, among others.

“When one skips antiretroviral treatment, their blood cells decrease. If a person should have over 1,500 blood cells, and another has 20, 50 or 200 blood cells, they are in danger,” she says.

Research shows that when someone who is on antiretroviral drugs starts skipping, they face more dangers than those who are yet to start the drugs. This triggers the quick spread of HIV in the body and leads to many secondary diseases.  Many people still have ignorance based on stigma.

She advises HIV patients to maintain the hour of consuming the drugs and avoid unprotected sex since it increases viruses from other infected people.

“They should also avoid alcohol, tobacco and others,” she adds.

Often, we receive new HIV infection cases. They include young people, adults and mothers who have transmitted the virus to their babies since they did not know their status as they delayed to get an HIV test, she says.

“We receive at least five new HIV infection cases every month at our clinic and we have a system that started last year which discovers if they have recent or long-term infection, like over a year, as they were not aware of their status. We prescribe drugs based on such information. If we receive this number of new infections, and consider all health centres and hospitals in the country, there are so many cases,” she says.

According to Mapambano Nyiridandi, the executive secretary of Kimironko Sector, more campaigns are needed to sensitise and test people on HIV status.

At least 2,000 people attend one campaign to fight against HIV infection and participate in HIV testing, and over 3,000 condoms are distributed.

The project seeks to extend operations to five more sectors of Gasabo District having covered 10 districts where over 5,000 girls, most of whom used to be sex workers, are supported.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com