Although HIV/Aids is no longer the killer disease that it was in the 1980s, it is still a big threat to everyone and efforts in fighting it continue to be extensive all around the world. To this end, the United Nations made this fight part of the Millennium Development Goals in article 6A which aims to have halted the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 and begun to reverse it and in 6B which targets universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it by 2010.
According to a 2011 report by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, there were 34 million people living with Aids worldwide in 2010. New HIV infections had been reduced by 21% since 1997 and deaths from HIV/Aids-related illnesses had decreased by 21% since 2005. In Rwanda, the overall number of people, adult and children together, living with the disease was 170.000 in 2009 as showed by another UNAIDS report. "The general prevalence is 3% among adults 15-49 years old from Demographic health survey DHS 2010," explained Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, head of the HIV division in the Rwanda Bio-Medical Center RBC. "It is 1% for the 15-24 years age group, with numbers being two times higher among female than male."
There are quite a few means of protection against HIV/Aids, one of which is the use of condoms. According to a behavioral surveillance survey (2010) from TRAC plus, 53% of the youth admitted to having used condoms in the last 12 months. "The general knowledge about HIV was 100% from what was obtained of those responding to the 2010 demographic and health survey," said Nsanzimana. "However, the knowledge of HIV prevention among the youth was 79% for women and 74% for men."
This high level of awareness among Rwandans can be explained by an intensive campaign which uses different strategies like radio messages, television, drama and theatre, music concerts, community meetings, leaders' speeches, community health workers, church messages and sports events. Campaigns in schools have also been very useful as you find even children in primary school knowing about the disease.
For instance, 12-year-old Francine Mukara knows all about how HIV is contracted and how to protect oneself. "They told us in class and I think it is very important that we know about this," she said. "I wouldn't want to be ignorant of what is out there."
The above factors, complemented by male circumcision, have led to a decrease of new infections from 10,000 five ago to 8.000 now. "These are mathematic model estimations," Nsanzimana explained. "RBC is currently conducting the first HIV incidence study to have accurate numbers of annual new infections."
Nsanzimana pointed out that they have a target of reducing new infections by half in the next 5 years. In sub-Saharan Africa, new infections have dropped by more than 26% from the height of the epidemic in 1997.
Thanks to the availability of antiretroviral treatment, deaths caused by HIV/Aids have been reduced all around the world. In Rwanda, those numbers passed from 22,000 in 2003 to 4,100 in 2009 according to UNAIDS. "94% of people living with HIV who are eligible to receive ARVs are currently receiving them," explained Nsanzimana. "This proportion was around 20% five years ago." Nsanzimana added that this increase was supported by the commitment of the authorities and easy access to services.
Those living with the virus are very much grateful for the access to the drugs. One lady, who did not want her name mentioned, has lived with the disease since 1994. She had had a really hard time and had given up all hope until she started receiving the treatment in 2004.
"I thought there was nothing else to do but to wait for death," she said. "The treatment was like a second chance, a new breath of life."
Since then, she has been kept strong and healthy and has been able to go on with her life as normally as possible. This woman's survival is just one of the thousands of such stories countrywide, which show the impact that having access to ARVs has had on the lives of many. As the lady said, "it would be easy to forget that one has the virus."