The HIV/Aids scourge is still a major concern in the country. According to results of the Demographic and Health Survey ( DHS) HIV/Aids prevalence among the youth aged between 15 -19 is around 0.5 percent the minimum age of the first sexual relations is 14 years among girls and 13 years among boys.
The use of condom is of 10 percent among the youth who are sexually active these are worrying figures and will continually rise if no efforts are made to combat the disease.
Raising awareness among young people about HIV/Aids, remains as the best way to fight out of this predicament, the youth need to be equipped with necessary skills to protect themselves and to be able to train others on the same.
The motivation of Voluntary Service overseas (VSO) Prevention of HIV/Aids and HIV/Aids in Rwanda through Education project (PHARE) is to support initiatives targeting HIV/Aids outreach in high schools in Goma, Nyagatare, Nyaruguru and Nyamagabe.
The project objective is to establish anti-AIDS clubs in high schools. In these club the student are trained on basic sexual health, reproduction, HIV/Aids prevention and transmission, contraception and importantly, peer counseling.
The students are provided with a manual to aid their discussions. Education is through experience and skill sharing among the youth.
The anti Aids clubs are led by a trained guide who is either an overseas volunteer or Rwandan staff, the aim however is to empower these students to run the clubs on their own. Ownership of the clubs is left to the students who are proud to teach the same message to their peers.
Heloise Allan is a volunteer with VSO from Manchester she is the project coordinator in Nyagatare district. According to Heloise Allan to her the figures of HIV/Aids are worrying.
She explains that the best way to prevent this pandemic is to educate the group that is mostly affected that is the young people who will in turn create networks of education with their community.
Heloise Says, “we can no longer shy away from the fact that our young people are sexually active instead of hiding from this fact we must be the ones to talk to them and advise them of the consequences they continually expose themselves to”.
The project has been successful since its inception and more young people continue to be recruited into the Anti Aids clubs. The youths are also being actively involved in sensitizing their community on HIV/Aids.
“Our project aims at HIV/Aids prevention in high schools through establishment of Anti Aids clubs, in this clubs young people are sensitized about aids and methods of its prevention, in hope that they can in turn pass this message to other youths within the community, The project started 3 years ago and already we have facilitated the inception of anti aids clubs in more than 13 schools in Nyagatare a figure that continues to grow” Heloise explains.
Heloise continues to say that this youth are however the lucky few ,they are the only ones who have made it to high school hence the need to reach out to others who dint make it to high school.
“The schools receive manuals that facilitate the trainings, this project aims at being self sustaining and hence the cubs are equipped to start income generating projects that will facilitate its programs, we give the clubs 80000RWF and help them in investing it,” Heloise point out.
The fight against aids is faced with countless challenges due to our cultural sensitivity towards the disease and its prevention strategies.
Heloise concludes” Parents are still afraid of talking to their children about HIV/Aids though its obvious that young people are engaging in premarital sex, People here are still very sensitive about the use of condoms and continue to shy away from using any method of HIV/Aids prevention, Its my hope that we can all join to advocate for all available method of prevention”.
All youths have a common goal to have a better future one that the HIV/Aids pandemic continue to hinder. It is a fact that the fight against HIV/Aids has to start with the youth. There is a need to facilitate constructive sharing amongst the youth. To equip them with information they need to advice their peers on the disease causes and prevention.
Eric Kariwera is a student at the Karangazi High school he says that his school anti Aids club has been very successful and that the teachers have been actively involved.
“Our teachers have really facilitated our club and now we can be confident to continue on our own, we hope to reach out to our friends in and out of school, since we joined the club we have learned a lot and we hope to share this information”. Kariwera says.
The National University of Rwanda is also actively involved in approaches to combat HIV/Aids in the University and the entire population, through student associations students are trained on prevention methods in order to intervene in the university and the community in order to promote behavior change.
The university is also actively involved in multidisplinary research on HIV/Aids in order to arm the public with information on this scourge.
The National Aids Control Commission is currently developing a plan for 2009-2012 that is a framework of who the country will achieve the key results related to HIV/Aids.
The fight against HIV/Aids must be holistic for it to be won; all bodies involved must pool their resources together for a common effort. Its early days yet but with projects like this Aids prevalence figures will lower to the hoped zero.