27 January 2013

Rwanda: HIV+ Students Not Free From Stigma

Through their organisation, the Rwandan Women Living with HIV/Aids, have called on the government to come up with measures to reinforce the fight against stigma of people living with HIV, especially in schools.

Philomene Cyurinyana, the Executive Secretary of the organisation, urged the government to come up with a clear system that will facilitate students with HIV to easily access drugs and fight stigma in schools.

"Such a system should also bring on board the Ministry of Education for proper coordination."

Students living with HIV are sometimes discriminated in schools because of their status by their fellow students, which might lead to students hiding their status and even not taking the medicines at the right time.

Uwitonze, who didn't want to mention her second name, said that she left her former school before the end of 2nd term because of students isolating her as a person who can infect them.

"This happened without teachers' concern but when I reported the case, the administration was concerned. The students were warned but instead it became worse than before as everyone recognised me," she said.

She explained it made her feel she was useless but she could not find a better solution until she was counselled and she decided to change her school and name.

Stigmatizing patients and leaving them open to abuse is deeply misguided said Betty Mukeshimana who is also infected

"For people who are older and mature we don't care and we manage to handle the case, but with students, it needs more sensitization so that they can know how to live with such people in society," she noted.

"I knew my son was infected at the age of 5, he is fifteen years now, he started the treatment but I can not take him far from me because he has to take his medicine every day".

Sebaziga Gakunzi, Director of social impact mitigation in Rwanda Bio Medical Centre, said the government was putting in more efforts to sensitise people, including students, to improve the situation.

"We know it still exists, but the government is finding possible ways through campaigns in schools and through the media," said Sebaziga.

He called on parents to advise their children on issues concerning HIV and even how to associate with them because they are part of the community.

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