At least 30 out of 2,059 residents of Bugarura Island on Lake Kivu in Rutsiro District are HIV-positive and are under antiretroviral therapy (ART), meaning that more than 1 per cent of the population is infected and affected by HIV, according to a survey made by Mboneza Sector officials.
Yet still, 24 girls from a class of about 50 pupils were not able to sit their national exams last year due to unwanted pregnancies, in the only primary school located at Bugarura Island, according to district officials.
It's against this background that the Imbuto Foundation has launched the 'True Love campaign' to mitigate HIV infections and unwanted pregnancies among children at the island.
Attended by hundreds of Bugarura residents of all ages, the campaign launch was also graced by the Governor of Western Province Caritas Mukandasira; the Army Chief Commander in Western Province, Maj.Gen. Mubarak Muganga; Assistant Commissioner of Police Bertin Mutezintare; PS Henriette Umulisa from the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, who was the guest of honour; PS Rosemary Mbabazi from the Ministry of Youth and ICT; Vice-Chair of Imbuto Foundation Rita Zirimwabagabo; the Director-General of Imbuto Foundation, Urujeni Bakuramutsa; UNFPA representative Nathalia Wiik; Rwanda Biomedical Centre representative Beata Sangwayire; and other local authorities and stakeholders in the field of adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign which included voluntary counselling and testing on Wednesday, at Bugarura health post, Zirimwabagabo said the campaign is in line with the national drive to fight HIV/AIDS, in children and adolescents, launched last year.
Rwanda's focus in this year's HIV preventive measures is themed, "It's everyone's responsibility to prevent, treat HIV among our children and adolescents."
"With teenage pregnancy being another important issue affecting a significant number of young people on this island and the country, we have to partner in seeking solutions by preventing mother-to-child infection, preventing early pregnancies, encouraging residents to test for HIV and know their status so that we can prevent more infections. We focus on youth and children because they are our country's future," said Zirimwabagabo.
This campaign is part of the Imbuto Foundation's 15th anniversary celebration, in line with its mission to support the development of a healthy, educated and prosperous society.
Zimimwabagabo said the True Love campaign this year would focus on the prevention of teenage pregnancies and the access to treatment for young people living with HIV.
Bugarura Island is one of the biggest inhabited islands of Lake Kivu with 2,059 inhabitants, of which 60 percent of the population are women, and 35 percent youth.
Teenage pregnancies are a frequent occurrence (48 in 2014), leading to youth drop out of school in 9 to 12 years basic education (YBE).
"With Bugarura's youth constituting a high risk group, there is a need to change this trend and get to know how to fight this issue, find interventions needed to fight HIV prevalence and child pregnancies," said Zirimwabagabo.
Imbuto Foundation began HIV and child pregnancy prevention drive at Bugarura Secondary School, with 30 peer educators trained in 2015, 50 parents attending parent-adolescent communication (PAC) forums, to engage the community on the prevention of teenage pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Launching Wednesday's campaign, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Henriette Umulisa, lauded Imbuto Foundation for offering the 'needed intervention' to the island while calling on parents to interact with children on sex education and offering necessary advise when needed.
"This campaign was long overdue, as per the national theme which calls for everyone's participation to fight HIV among children and adolescents. Parents have a role to talk to their children about sexual education and caution them against sex before marriage," said Umulisa.
She also challenged the youth to focus on their education, as the only way to achieve a desirable future and to shun sex before marriage.
"True love, is the one you can give yourself; through the dreams you can achieve, this can be made possible through abstinence and being faithful to your rightful partners if married," Umulisa added.
The acting mayor of Rutsiro District, Tharcis Niyonzima outlined polygamy; hosting people of different backgrounds among the factors fueling HIV spread and early pregnancies on the island.
"Having more than one wife is considered good habit on this island, and the fact that this island hosts people from different places including fishermen, criminals hiding here from neighbouring areas plus Congolese travellers. These are the factors contributing to risky sexual behaviors involving young girls consequently causing early pregnancies or at worst HIV infection," said Niyonzima.
The launch also included testimonies by a young single mother and a teenager living with HIV, to help raise more awareness, among their peers and their parents, about the dangers of high-risk behaviours and their consequences in the long-term.