Rwandans have a saying that goes, ‘ushaka gukira, arata indwaraye’ (that one who wants to be healed, mentions the illness). I hope I am not far from the translation. There was a time when being HIV positive was a sure way of being stigmatised.The stigma would not be limited to the infected person alone but to their relatives and friends.
These in turn would try as much as possible to distance themselves from the infected person. Had they been the biblical Apostle Peter, the cock would crow to its death before they accepted having to do anything with an HIV infected person.
Therefore, the issue of HIV/AIDS would only be whispered about in the corridors. People were afraid of HIV/AIDS. They are still afraid of it, and rightly so. If treatable diseases bring a lot of discomfort, what about that whose cure is not yet found.
It took a lot of sensitisation and open acceptance of the fact that HIV/AIDS does exist that a lot of progress in its prevention was registered. Laws against discrimination of people living with the dreadful disease were introduced in order to prevent stigma.
Some infected people have even openly testified and shown that with love, support, proper nutrition and personal sexual discipline to avoid further infection, they have lived longer and productively.
Now, that is among the adults. It’s great that the Ministry of Health is now also focussing on children infected with HIV. That health centre in Kibagabaga is a great step.
Just like people were initially afraid to accept that they were HIV positive, they are even more afraid to accept that a child can be infected too. Some say, the child is too innocent to have such misfortune befall it.
According to reports, of the 25 million HIV infected individuals worldwide, 90% are in developing countries. HIV has infected 4.4 million children worldwide and has resulted in the deaths of 3.2 million children.
There should be an awareness campaign on the fact that HIV does exist even among babies. It should also be known that an HIV infected pregnant woman can bear a healthy HIV free baby. Prior to 1985, one way that children were infected was by blood transfusions, but improved screening tests have eliminated such forms of transmission.
Prenatal HIV testing should also be encouraged. Initially this was not common, not even in the USA. According to WebMD, only within the last 5 years have obstetricians in the United States been required to offer prenatal HIV testing though this testing is still not mandatory in all states.
Before prenatal testing was common, diagnosing HIV infections in a woman after diagnosing it in her child was not unusual. A proportion of the increased incidence of paediatric HIV is because of earlier identification.
After people have accepted the fact that HIV can actually exist in children, will they try to prevent it in them. Parents should be encouraged to test their babies for HIV, prevent mother to child transmission which sometimes happens when giving birth.
It’s good that the health insurance scheme, mutuelle de sante, is getting a good response. This hopefully translates into more mothers relying on health centres and actually giving birth from there.
It’s great that the centre at Kibagabaga will also help parents or the children’s guardians to inform the children above 8 years about their HIV status. It’s hard to accept an HIV positive result among adults, the reason many are even afraid of just taking the voluntary testing, so it must be even harder for a child.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, said that once successful, the initiative will be introduced in other hospitals countrywide. I would like to believe that it will be successful and all efforts to that end will not be spared. But people need to be aware and accept the fact that children too can either be born or be infected with HIV.
Hopefully, this will lead to fewer infections and those infected to receive the required support.