First Lady renews call to end new HIV infections in children

Children deserve the best. No child should be born with HIV/AIDS because his/her mother is infected, and HIV positive mothers should spare no effort to ensure zero new infections of children.

To achieve this, according to the First Lady, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, it will require concerted efforts by all players, including government, development partners as well as individual citizens.

The First Lady made the call on Monday during the launch of a three-month nationwide campaign to increase awareness, strengthen ownership and accountability to end HIV/AIDS among children and keep mothers alive and healthy.

Dubbed “Free to Shine”, the campaign was launched in Kigali at Petit Stade in Remera and attracted hundreds of participants including government officials, development partners, community health workers as well as the youth.

It is part of a continental initiative under the banner of Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) that seeks to end pediatric HIV/AIDS by 2030, and keep infected mothers alive and healthy.

The campaign will also seek to reinforce partnerships and advocacy for action to mobilise resources to end pediatric HIV/AIDS and foster community involvement and participation to increase ownership of the EMTCT drive.

EMTCT stands for Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV.

Speaking at the launch, the First Lady said that despite efforts by government and its partners to minimise HIV/AIDS, the disease is still a threat as there are children who are still born with HIV infections from their mothers.

Mrs. Kagame, who is also the founder of Imbuto Foundation, said that the interventions and resources sunk into initiatives geared towards reducing new infections, have helped reduce the national prevalence rate from a double-digit figure to a 3% national average.

“We committed to do all we can under this programme to end new HIV/AIDS infections among new-born children in Africa and to protect the lives of their mothers. We shall never relent until we are sure that there is no new HIV/AIDS infection in the country. It is a long journey we started and it still continues,” she added.

She urged community health workers and medical practitioners to ensure regular follow up, specifically for pregnant women in all categories to get antenatal treatment as early as possible, so that those infected are supported to deliver children free from HIV/AIDS.

“There are still children born with HIV/AIDS infection because their parents did not seek antenatal care while we had the capacity and responsibility to protect them,” she said, calling upon caregivers to ensure mothers found infected are given proper care.

She said that efforts should not be spared to ensure that those found infected, do not feel discriminated against.

‘Shun discrimination’

The First Lady also said that some parents and communities discriminate against children who are born with HIV/AIDS, which has led some to abandon antiretroviral therapy (ART).

She also urged parents to openly discuss with their children about their conditions regarding HIV infection.

“Some children born with HIV/AIDS face discrimination in families and some parents do not tell them the truth on why they have to take daily ARV pills. When such children learn the truth from a different source instead of their parents, some lose hope and find it hard to manage the situation,” she said.

During the event, health services were provided, including HIV/AIDS testing and distribution of free condoms,where over 200 people got tested and a total of 33,000 condoms were distributed.

Rwanda has made impressive strides in reducing vertical transmission. The country’s MTCT rate was at 1.5% as of June 2018, according to Dr Diane Gashumba, the Minister for Health, and the rate is far below the targeted 5% at the cessation of breastfeeding.

Speaking at the event, the UNICEF Country Representative Ted Maly commended the government’s efforts to protect children and Rwandans in general against HIV, and reiterated the UN’s commitment throughout the new campaign.