Despite the gains made in managing HIV, women remain a high risk group, with reports indicating that an increasing number are getting infected compared with men.
The HIV prevalence rate for women in Rwanda stands at 3.7 while that for men stands at 2.2. Of the total number of HIV-positive people, 76 per cent are adults, with 80 per cent of this group being women, according to the Rwanda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment survey.
The survey shows that HIV prevalence among 15-64 year-olds stands at three per cent or approximately 210,200 people.
It further shows that Rwanda has progressed towards achieving HIV epidemic control, attaining high levels of linkage to treatment and viral load suppression among positive people, but more effort is needed to ensure new cases decline especially among women.
Currently, more than 5,400 new cases of HIV are reported among adults every year.
Reports from the Ministry of Health indicate that on average, one person is infected with HIV every 30 minutes in Rwanda.
In a recent interview, the Minister of Health Dr Diane Gashumba said a lot of effort is needed to reduce HIV infections particularly among women.
“The epidemic highly affects vulnerable populations; sex workers in particular face increased risks and require special attention,” said Dr Gashumba.
“It happens either directly through sexual assault or indirectly through fear of violence and difficulties for women in controlling and negotiating safe sex and condom use.”
Efforts have been put in place to reduce the number of new infections and ensure HIV-positive people are linked to and sustained on treatment.
Emanuel Safari, the executive director of Cladho, an umbrella body for human rights organisations blames the rising number of women with HIV to an increase in gender-based violence and a dangerous mindset harboured by some men.
He said that research shows that men infected with HIV/Aids hunt for young girls for sexual intercourse due to a belief that it helps to reduce their viral load.
“Despite multiple efforts at fighting HIV/Aids in the country, gender-based violence, early pregnancies and inferiority complex among women are among factors that keep the number of those infected with the virus rising,” said Mr Safari. “If no special research is conducted specifically on this matter, we are in danger.”
The executive director of the Kigali-based non-profit organisation Health Development Initiative Aflodis Kagaba blamed the trend on the rising number of sex workers in the country.
“Sex worker’s prevalence rate is above 45 per cent which is over half of the total prevalence rate of all women who are HIV positive in the country,” said Mr Kagaba.
“Condoms are not enough and more challenging is that even when they are available, the majority of sex workers rarely have a choice on whether to use them or not since they are after money,” said Mr Kagaba. “It is very disturbing because the majority do not want to use condoms; they prefer contraceptives which only protect them from unwanted pregnancies leaving them vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted diseases.”
He said that given the anatomy of the female pelvic area which makes it difficult for the symptoms of STDs to be easily detected, women have three times the chances of being infected with HIV from intercourse than men.
"More awareness and inclusion of all categories of risk groups like young girls in schools, prisoners who at times engage in homosexuality the number of new infections will continue to growThe HIV