We owe it to our children and the future to do more to curb spread of HIV

Saturday October 26 2019

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A recent HIV population-based impact survey revealed that young women aged 20 and above are among the most vulnerable to contracting the virus in the country. PHOTO | FILE 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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A recent HIV population-based impact survey revealed that young women aged 20 and above are among the most vulnerable to contracting the virus in the country.

It also indicates that prevalence stands at 1.8 percent among young women aged between 20 and 24, compared with 0.6 percent among men in the same age group.

This revelation is not isolated; if anything,, the civil society and the government are reporting an increasing rate of early pregnancies.

For years, the country has battled high levels of gender-based violence against women and children, as well as increased cases of rape and defilement.

Saddening as the HIV rate is, it shouldn't be surprising that the scale is tilting more towards young girls, because of how risky it is increasingly becoming to be a young girl in Rwanda, something seen as a big failure on the side of government, whose primary mandate is to provide security and create an environment of safety especially for the vulnerable groups.

The latest HIV numbers should beyond anything else be a point of awakening not only to the government but to citizens, the civil society and other stakeholders about the plight of young girls in this country, to collectively devise ways of protecting them.

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Some primitive and dangerously false beliefs especially in the rural area that are partly responsible for the spread of HIV and other ills among young girls should be strongly fought and debunked.

The Rwanda health system inherited an overwhelming number of HIV infected people, many of whom were infected within a short time, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Up to 500,000 women were reported to have been raped in the genocide and up to 70 percent of these were infected with HIV.

From these rapes, up to 20,000 children were born, and more than 65 per cent of these were born with the HIV virus, and those who are still alive have been on an ARV cocktail since 2003, taking them alongside their mothers, under very difficult conditions.

These mothers struggle to get food to feed their sick children, leave alone afford nutritious foods needed by people under ARV treatment, which is an issue government and it's partners need to look into.

The new survey also reveals that HIV-infected men are not taking ARVs, that it is women who are have demonstrated discipline in undertaking ARV treatment.

Now that we have new data to work with regarding HIV prevalence, it is time for the relevant authorities to use it by following the different demographic pathways to, first, ensure that those infected are put on the necessary treatment and follow-ups.

But there is also a need for a multi-sectoral task force, involving law enforcement agencies, ministry of health, civil society and others, to come up with a collective mechanism of punishing the culprits responsible for sexual crimes against young girls, finding out those who infected them, but also deliver behavioural change among men.

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