As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the Worlds AIDS Day, local medics have said that their focus going forward will be on addressing gaps in diagnosing the disease efficiently.
The shift in the approach aims to help HIV positive people will increasingly know their status and start treatment.
Marked every year on December 1, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, show support for people living with the disease, and commemorate those who have died of its related illnesses.
Rwanda will mark this year’s World AIDS Day with a number of achievements in regard to the fight against the disease, among which the HIV prevalence has remained stable at 3 per cent among the general population aged between 15-64 years old for the last decade.
The rate of new infections declined by half since 2015, according to the 2019 Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA).
Mother-to-child transmission rate at 24 months old also went down to less than 2 per cent for the last four years.
In addition to this, a survey released by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) in November this year showed that that stigma and discrimination index against people infected with HIV/AIDS stands at 13, interpreted as “very low” according to the scale used by the researchers.
Though such achievements have been registered, a gap in diagnosis stands out where it is estimated that only 84 per cent of people who are HIV positive in Rwanda know their status.
This makes one of the key issues that medics want to address to make more progress in fighting the HIV epidemic,
“The gap we have is in diagnosis, so you find that there are HIV positive people who don’t know their status because they have not been tested,” said Eric Remera, the Acting Division Manager for HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Viral Hepatitis at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).
“So now the focus is to get more people test.”
Ernest Aimé Nyirinkindi, the In-charge of Information, Education and Behavioural Change Communication at RBC’s Division for HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Viral Hepatitis, told this newspaper that Rwanda has achieved UNAIDS’ “90-90-90” targets, except for one: diagnosis.
UNAIDS targets were that by 2020, 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; and 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
“For the first 90, Rwanda achieved 84 per cent; for the second 90, it exceeded it to 97.5 per cent; and we also achieved the last 90 where we have 90.1 per cent,” he said.
“It means that what we are required to put effort into is the first 90 – so that people who are HIV positive will know their HIV status,” he said.
He added that there is need to improve access of HIV-related services to adolescents and the young people.
The RPHIA survey showed that there was a problem among the female youth, where HIV prevalence among young women aged 20-24 years was three times higher than it was among men in the same age group.
On the global stage, in 2019, there were 38 million people globally living with HIV- among them 1.8 million were children under 15 years old, 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV and only 25.4 million (67 per cent) people accessed antiretroviral therapy (ART) up from 6.4 million in 2009.
Rwanda’s activities to mark World AIDS Day at national level
Rwanda will mark the World AIDS Day Campaign today December 1 using technologies, media and different E-platforms.
According to information from RBC, this year’s World AIDS Day National campaign aims at raising HIV awareness to all citizens through comprehensive actions towards reduction of new HIV infections and HIV related deaths.
A campaign will be launched on December 1, and will continue with various activities throughout a three months’ period.
According to RBC, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, physical meetings will be limited and focus will be on the use of technologies including mass media, social media and other communication technologies to reach put to audiences with HIV related information.
HIV and Covid-19
Meanwhile, in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, a new analysis by UNAIDS has revealed that Covid-19 could potentially impact the supply of generic antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV, particularly in low- and middle-income countries around the world.
It is anticipated that lockdowns and border closures imposed to stop Covid-19 are affecting both the production of medicines and their distribution, potentially leading to increases in their cost and supply related issues.