The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, has urged the public to seek HIV test to know their sero status.
This, she said, would help them to make informed decisions. Those found HIV-positive would get free immediate treatment and care support at their nearest health facility, she said.
Dr Gashumba said this during the marking of the World AIDS Day in Kigali yesterday, a day that saw a new oral HIV self-testing method unveiled.
A demonstration of how the new self-testing kit is used was done by members of Rwanda Medical Students Association (MEDSAR).
The day was marked under the theme, “Get tested for HIV. If positive, Start and Stay on life-saving treatment.”
The event, at Amahoro National Stadium in Remera, was graced by public officials, as well as representatives of civil society and international organisations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In a testimony, Judithe Mumararungu, an 18-year-old HIV-positive girl, said she was infected through unprotected sex when she was in Senior Five.
Her first time experience became her nightmare.
“I never thought my boyfriend could be positive that I did not hesitate but later on I started to develop symptoms and I tested positive. After learning about my status, I felt hopeless. But later when I decided to get treatment, my condition improved and now I have a plan to get back to school and finish my studies and be able to create a better future,” she said.
Based on her experience, she warned other youth who are still making unprotected intercourse to quit and get tested and know their status in time.
She urged those who are HIV-positive to keep on taking their medications and never put the lives of others at risk by indulging in unprotected sex but aim at contributing toward the zero new infections target.
Josue Sincere Ukuri, the MEDSAR president, said the Oral HIV self-testing tool is an innovative approach that can rapidly increase access to and uptake of HIV testing services, particularly among the youth and other high risk populations with the lowest coverage.
“With the kit, people can use oral fluid or blood-finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting. Results are ready within 20-40 minutes. Those with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics and further support,” he said.
Ukuri said people who are already on anti-retroviral medication are not advised to use the oral test as they can be misled as the results return negative due to exposure to drugs.
Dr Jeanine Condo, the director-general of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said that, at this occasion, the country was celebrating the progress made in keeping the HIV prevalence in check over the last five years.
“The prevalence rate is still at 3 per cent since 2005 and this has been achieved because of the numerous strategies in place. There has also been scaling up of HIV preventive and treatment services to more than 90 per cent of health facilities across the country. HIV/AIDS from mother to child has been reduced to less than 2 per cent,” she said.
“There is provision of anti-retroviral treatments to all HIV-positive people in need and for free. Latest estimates indicate that about 80 per cent of the people in need of ARVs have access to the life-saving medication,” she said.
An annual data collection exercise conducted by Rwanda Biomedical Centre indicates that new infections each year are at 0.27 per cent while 13 per cent don’t know their status.
What should be done to strengthen fight against HIV?
Eric Mutezimana, security guard. ‘I am proud of how far the Government has come in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Today, all people can access treatment and this is a big milestone.
However, I believe we still have a few challenges, especially with the mindset, but with continued sensitisation, we will overcome this too.’
Dinah Umwari, student. ‘The youth should be given more platforms where they can access information about comprehensive sexuality education, this way they will be informed about pressing matters such as how sexually transmitted infections are spread and hence know how to prevent them.
I call on the youth to abstain because this is the best way of preventing HIV.’
Francoise Mukarubayiza. ‘Emphasis on the use of condoms will continue strengthening the fight.
Also, people who are HIV-positive should not fear getting treatment.
For those who can they should abstain and as for married couples, they should be faithful.
I am happy with the fact that people no longer die of HIV-related illnesses the way it was in the past.
I thank the Government for the great work done.’
Mutabazi Gakuba, IT Intern. ‘I think efforts should be put into early testing because, this way, people get a chance of accessing treatment early enough before the virus weakens them. Also, prevention measures, such as use of condoms, should be focused on by easing access for the public.’
Compiled by Donah Mbabazi