World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV.
So far, the Society for Family Heath Rwanda (SFH) is among the key organizations which have contributed significantly on HIV/AIDSawareness and interventions over years in Rwanda.
The SFH Rwanda’s HIV /AID prevention program mainly focuses on creating awareness on condom use through a number of approaches, including working with community health workers, promoting peer education, distribution of condoms in high risk zones and improving access to condoms in the process.
“Social marketing of condoms (Plaisir and Prudence brands) as well as free distribution of military condoms, behavior change communication (BCC), mobile HIV testing and counseling including linkage to Anti retroviral Treatment (ART) are our key interventions in addressing HIV/AID in Rwanda,” said SFH Executive Director, Manasseh GihanaWandera.
The program is implemented countrywide and strongly emphasizes adoption of healthy behaviors and proper use of products and services. The program also adheres to the principle of outreach activities to disseminate messages using strategies such as mass media communications, community drama and films, mobile videos road shows using local prominent artists to spreadmessages on HIV prevention.
According to Manasseh, female sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM) are the key populations in Rwanda with high chances of contracting and spreading HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections. Thus, to protect these key populations SFH supports access and availability of condoms, Voluntary Counseling & Testing under a program known as Rwanda Social Marketing Program (RSMP).
Impact of SFH HIV/AIDS intervention work
SFH has made great strides in changing the risk behavior of key populations and improving access to condoms. This fiscal year alone (2016-2017) SFH has distributed more than 12 million condoms countrywide. In addition, it has been able to engage with many youth clubs and community based organization to sensitize the general population on HIV prevention
Since 2012, SFH has distributed about 62 million condomsresulting into 518,000death avertedand provided 518,357.75 Couple Year of Protection(CYP).For example, if a person was supposed to engage in risky behavior that would expose him/her to HIV infection,but through our intervention we make him think twice about engaging in itand they end up taking a positive action, that means that, that particular person would have died otherwise,” he explained.
SFH enabled 128,848 individuals (Key and general population) to know their HIV status and more than 80% of those who were found positive were facilitated to access medical care and treatment as well as support services.About 490,810 individuals have been reached with HIV prevention messages increasing their knowledge and awareness of HIV prevention. Also, SFH built the capacity of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and military anti AIDS clubs.
“The above mentioned interventions have supported the government’s efforts of reducing new infections. The general HIV prevalence has been stable at 3.0% since 2005 while that of female sex works have reduced from 51%(2010) to 48.5%(2015). This is a great achievement for Rwanda when compared to the prevalence rates of neighbouring countries which is considerably higher,”he argued.
Behaviour change is a key component in addressing the HIV scourge. Nonetheless, Manasseh argues that, “Behavior change is not an overnight event rather is a continuous process. This year alone we have so many adolescents and youth who are sexually active hence moresensitization is needed for these young people to change their mentality and to understand the importance of condoms in reducing their risk to contracting HIV.”
Moving forward, SFH will continue passing on the right messages with a focus on more evidence based approaches in conducting research and identifyingbarriers in order to understand and address the real barriers to HIV prevention.
SFH will also leverage on technology to disseminate HIV prevention messagesin addition to improving distribution mechanisms of condoms so that people can easily access themconvenientlyand ensure that they are also youth friendly.