Besides COVID-19, HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the most disruptive threats to Rwanda’s socia-economic development. .
Over 220,000 people are HIV positive out of a 12 million total population with a prevalence of 3% nationwide and the highest numbers being in Kigali with over 54,000 cases.
The government, through support of the US government (Rwf1.6trillion over 20 years) has managed to provide free testing, medication-antiretroviral therapy (ART), and to bring services close to beneficiaries.
In all this however, HIV positive young adults are sidelined, stigmatized, as many believe that it’s not worth investing in them.
They are still seen as objects of charity, and burdens to society. This has created a scenario where young adults continue to see HIV as a death sentence.
Two years ago, a young Rwandan defied the odds started an organization- Dream Village- to help young children born with HIV/Aids to stay in school but access medication and learn life skills for self-sustainability.
The idea came from his experience of staying with HIV positive relatives, friends from whom he learnt experiences including stigmatization, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts among young adults living with HIV as they suffer with issues of self-confidence or trying to look for acceptance.
Today the organization supports over 4,000 children in Kigali city through the Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters’ project (CATS) which provides packaged services for children, adolescents and young people living with HIV so that they know, understand and accept their HIV status but also take medication with no stigma.
The organization also runs a Rwanda Nook Hub- a self-learning center where the children learn life skills by exploring and creating income generating projects in painting, tailoring; cloth and print services (Imboni project) and making bamboo crafts (bamboo project) for sale.
“We dream of a Rwanda in which people who are HIV positive, are seen as change agents rather than objects of charity. To achieve this, we provide a platform on which people living with HIV are empowered to create positive social change and live productive and healthy lives,” said Fiona Niwowegusa, the CATS project mentor.
Niwowegusa says that though Dream Village depends on government and external donor funding, the plan for income generating projects is to ensure sustainability in future.
This is one of the initiatives that Rwandans today gathered to witness as they celebrated World AIDS Day in Kigali city this December 10, 2021 with a massive walk to remember deceased victims of HIV/Aids and awarded Rwandans who have suppressed the virus through taking medication but also mobilize citizens on prevention and treatment.
Sylvie Muneza, 49, the chairperson of Rwanda Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (RRP+) said that the journey of living with HIV has been long but a changing one due to government support and policies.
“We are no longer worried about medication and treatment, services have been brought closer to us and the issue of stigmatization is now becoming history. This is our opportunity to collaborate with all stakeholders to end HIV/Aids,” Muneza said.
Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), Director of Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STI), Dr. Janvier Serumondo said that with the availability of treatment and medication, Rwanda can beat the 2030 targets of ending HIV; however more work is needed in one target.
The ambitious 95-95-95 strategy, announced by UNAIDS in 2014, aims at ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 by achieving 95% od People Living with HIV diagnosed, having 95% of the diagnosed people on antiretroviral therapy, and suppressing the virus among 95% people living with HIV/AIDs.
Serumondo said that the first target is at 86% and that is where more work is needed, since Rwanda is already above the second target (97%) and Closing in on the third with 90%.