Rwanda: HIV Most Rampant Among Female Youth Than Males

24 October 2019

Despite the gains made in reducing the HIV burden in the country, the latest national survey shows that young women are more susceptible to be infected compared to their male peers.

Figures showed that HIV prevalence among young women aged 20-24 years was three times higher than it is among men in the same age group, making it the most pronounced disparity by sex.

In the same age group, according to Rwanda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA), HIV prevalence stands at 1.8 per cent among females compared to 0.6 per cent among their male counterparts.

This is opposed to the figures at tender ages where both sexes are almost at the same level of prevalence.

For instance, at age 10-14, the HIV prevalence is 0.5 per cent among girls and 0.3 per cent among boys.

This fact, according to the researchers, should raise questions for policymakers, as well as other stakeholders who are engaged in devising measures for youth related issues.

Speaking at the official launch of the results of the survey, on Tuesday, however, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Director General at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), had a lot to be grateful for in form of reduced prevalence among the general population.

But he did not hide his discontent with figures among the young women,

"It is a figure that is worrying because, for example, at age 15 you find that the HIV prevalence among boys and girls to be close - both are less than 1 per cent. But as it reaches 20 years, the girls exceed the boys by almost four times," he said.

In that brief time, he said, ask yourself where they got the HIV from.

"When we saw it, it scared us. There might be something that happens in those years with the girls. We may buy into a thought they might be getting infected by older men as it has been suggested before. Or perhaps, the girls themselves might be exposing themselves to acts of prostitution which may make them meet with HIV."

Bringing the high rates of teenage pregnancies into the equation, Nsanzimana challenged policymakers and other partners about the apparent need to rethink what measures they are using to fight HIV, teenage pregnancies and related challenges.

In brief, he suggests, it requires different stakeholders and those who make policies to sit and think about what to change.

"This is because the measures in place have not made much difference in regard to the problem," he said. "This means that what we are doing might not be in line with the way that youths are behaving. Or perhaps, we are not doing enough."

Aimable Mwananawe, the National Coordinator of Ihorere Munyarwanda, a Civil Society Organisation that among other things sensitises youth about sexual reproductive health, said that such discrepancy in the HIV prevalence among the young men and women may be caused by some cross generational relationships where young women "fall in love" with men that are way older than them.

He called for more efforts from families by being closer to the youth, advising them; and for other stakeholders in society and government to also make more efforts to increase awareness concerning the fight against HIV.

On a positive note, the findings showed that the prevalence of HIV among adult Rwandans (15-49 years old) reduced to 2.6 per cent from the long-standing 3.3. That of those between 15-64 years also went down from 3.7 to 3.0 per cent.

New infections per year also reduced by almost a half. The survey showed that every year, about 5400 people get infected by HIV, far less than the more than 10,000 that were reported during the 2014 survey.

Overall, women remain with more burden than men. HIV prevalence stands at 3.7 per cent among women and 2.2 per cent among men.

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