Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

13 January 2013

Rwanda: Being HIV/Aids Positive Doesn't Mean Losing Hope

Given it that it has no cure, many people think that acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, implies an automatic death sentence. However, there is scientific evidence that people with HIV/AIDS can live longer if they take proper care of themselves and get social support.

A living example is a woman cooperative SUB'IRA (Kwihangana-or be strong) based in Nyamirambo. The group has 60 members most of whom are living with HIV or are widows as a result of the disease. Other members are caretakers of HIV/AIDS orphans. To make ends meet, the group has a host of businesses which include renting out chairs, tents and other materials required for events.

According to their testimonies, these women adopted a very positive and healthy lifestyle which includes taking antiretroviral treatment on time, a balanced diet and ensuring that they follow medical advice regarding their health. Angelique Mukankuranga, a mother of four, immediately sought medical care when she found out she was HIV positive in 2003. "At that time, my CD4 count was only 107. It is now 800," the 46-year-old explained.

Mukankuranga, who manages the cooperative's business on a daily basis, is very optimistic about life. That has partly resulted from how her family, community and coop members treat her.

For people living with HIV/AIDS, doctors recommend having a balanced diet to keep healthy, to clean and cook food properly and to drink at least two liters of clean water.

Mukankuranga, who manages the cooperative's business on a daily basis, is very optimistic about life. That has partly resulted from how her family, community and coop members treat her.

For Mukankuranga, she eats nothing out of the ordinary. The foods commonly eaten are what she depends on but she weighed 60 kgs before starting to live a positive healthy life but now weighs 80 kgs.

Loneliness, anxiety and depression make people living with HIV/AIDS sicker and more vulnerable when their immune systems are weak. In Mukankuranga's case, the support from her home, cooperative members and community has made it easier for her to live as positive and healthy life despite having the virus.

Her workmate Aline Gikundiro is not infected with HIV. She is however a care-taker of children who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS and her colleagues.

"The Coop members make business plans and we give them small loans," said Gikundiro who explained that they get loans from monthly contribution that they keep in local SACCOS. "When they fall sick, we provide treatment. For the deceased, we help support their children," she says with a deep sense of care.

Apart from the good care from work, Angelique is also proud of her children who ensure she takes her dose on time. "I even get support from my neighbors. No-one hides from me. There is no problem because I can I can drink water in any home and they also reciprocate."

According to Angelique, sometimes people with HIV/AIDS isolate themselves, which eventually makes those around them to avoid them as well. What about those infected women who look for sex partners? "They ignore their sicknesses and become pregnant which is a sure way of spreading the virus," says Mukankuranga.

The HIV positive and some organizations which support them now believe they are not meant to be supported with food, but with ideas of welfare projects.

An official from TRAC Plus (a Centre for Treatment and Research on AIDS), says of cooperative Sub'ira, "They are not meant to be supplied with SOSOMA and beans; instead they should be trained to be job creators as some of them already are."

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