The memory of what the doctor told Dorcas Akimana 28, (not real names), regarding her HIV status raced through her mind, and she was more stunned than hurt.
After being lured in to prostitution by a woman she considers among the worst peer groups, Akimana, now with HIV positive status is engaged in role modeling for positive behavior.
Akimana, lives in Gatsibo district, Eastern province, where recent statistics indicate that new HIV infections per year are massive, especially among youth.
“Peer groups overstepped my sense of reasoning and I have one profound regret today, which is the fact that I neglected advice from people around me.”
Akimana is a lovely girl, in the full bloom of youth and health, however, a shadow seemed to fall across her face at the mention of high HIV prevalence among fellow youth, but she still has hope for a bright future and maintaining a motherhood role.
She owes her boasts ofviral suppression to counselling from her nearest health centre and partners in health promotion.
During a community outreach campaign by the Ministry of Health, through the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) in the Eastern province, the need to educate youth, especially girls about condom use was emphasized, to curb new HIV infections, other STIs, and unplanned pregnancy.
Akimana has a child, aged 6, and thanks to the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTC) program, the child is safe from HIV/AIDS. She regrets having not used a condom and she has taken lead in advising fellow youth not to fall in the same trap.
AHF Rwanda is one of the partners of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and according to Ndungutse Bikorimana, in charge of youth program, they import over 4 million condoms every year, to supplement contribution made by government in the same initiative of providing free condoms as a preventive measure.
“We cannot talk about HIV prevention among youth, especially the use of condoms, without mentioning the youth. This calls for sensitization about Sexual and Reproductive Health, as important, to equip them with clear messages for wise decisions.”
AHF Rwanda supports over 38 health facilities, located in 11 districts, where there is free condom distribution. They have established 10 condom kiosks in the City of Kigali, Huye, Rusizi and Rubavu districts. The ultimate goal is to have more than that for sufficient distribution, especially among the youth.
Akimana is on anti-retroviral treatment to suppress viral load as she caters for her child, which does not bar her from enjoying her motherhood. Statistics indicate that 82% of people on antiretroviral treatment have suppressed viral load, less than 1000 copies/ml (RPHIA 2019) in the Eastern province.
Fabrice Ishimwe is an employee of a local organisation ‘Youth in Action’, registered in 2016 and works on health promotion in the eastern province and other parts of the country. They entered a formal partnership with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre and district authorities in the implementation of the campaign against HIV.
Youth Action helps Akimana and other youth in the eastern province through messages about HIV prevention care and treatment.
“We expect deserving results from this campaign, messages have been tailored to help the targeted youth on how to prevent themselves from the AIDS scourge, hence reducing the prevalence and teenage pregnancies as well.
Youth Action again helps those infected by refering them to health centres for counselling and treatment and also approaching those pregnant to go for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT)
Accelerating efforts to prevent new HIV infections, strengthening strategic partnerships targeting youth in the Eastern province and in Kigali City (in and out of school), is being reinforced to alert the youth about AIDS as a scourge that needs attention, with the involvement of parents, teachers and local leaders.
Honorine Uzarerwa 18, a second-year student- teacher at Kabarore Teacher Training Centre in the department of languages. She affirmed that high HIV prevalence among girls is caused by failure to abide by advice from the elders and resorting to peer group pressure.
Uzarewa also blames men for luring young girls into sex, blinding them with by different gifts which some parents or guardians fail to provide at home, even forgetting preventive measures.
“I find it wise for a girl taking lead in buying a condom, instead of leaving that task for the opposite sex, because it helps to prevent double negative effects (contracting HIV and getting pregnant), once there is unprotected sex. I strongly believe that unplanned pregnancy does not only affect a girl’s future plans, but also upsets your parents or guardians, we all need to be educated.” Said Uzarerwa.
The Rwanda Biomedical Centre and partners have also decided to use live drama shows to social behavior changes as the principal means of delivering information. The main objective is to to implement HIV/AIDS prevention activities, thus reducing HIV new infections, both in the general population but largely focusing the youth