Rwanda Changes Tack on HIV Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak

A Community health agent conducts an HIV/AIDS test (file photo).

The coronavirus pandemic has struck one of its most pernicious blows to the global health sector with unimaginable consequences.

Recently, concerns have emerged that countries are diverting resources, including those that are meant to fight HIV/AIDS, in a bid to curb the coronavirus crisis.

However, according to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), the country has intensified the fight against HIV/AIDS and also put measures to ensure that patients are not left behind.

Speaking to The New Times, Placidie Mugwaneza, the HIV/AIDS Division Manager at RBC, said, "Since the detection of the first case of Covid-19, preventive measures were put in place so as to mitigate its easy spread."

She added; "One of them was a total home-based confinement which was hindering normal movement of people living with HIV to health facilities, making it impossible to obtain HIV services including clinical follow-up and drug refill."

In order to facilitate AIDS patients, the HIV programme was restructured, she explained.

For instance, she highlighted that drug refills which were conducted on a monthly basis have been upgraded to two months and for some we have upgraded them to three months.

"Community outreach of people living with HIV has also been enhanced through regular communication between healthcare providers and their patients," she said.

On top of that, Mugwaneza pointed out that the government requested all health facilities to give all support to patients with HIV patients.

In addition the government has ensured sufficient supplies of HIV commodities (drugs and health products), she says.

Unusually, she explained, they have 10 months of import cover of HIV related stock.

"As per now we have never run out of stock of any commodity" she emphasised.

The changes in the national HIV programme come after the United Nations recently warned that AIDS death in Sub-Saharan Africa could double saying that AIDS virus-related illnesses could claim more than half a million people.

As of May 25, Rwanda had recorded 336 coronavirus cases. With no fatality reported, a total number of 238 patients had fully recovered while some 98 cases remained active.

The latest statistics from RBC indicate that, the HIV prevalence among adults, aged 15-49 years, was 2.6 per cent and 3 per cent among those aged 15-64 years indicating that approximately 210,200 adults in Rwanda were living with HIV.

It was found that HIV prevalence was higher in women (3.7 per cent) than men (2.2 per cent) and HIV prevalence was 1.9 times higher in urban areas compared to rural areas.

The annual incidence of HIV among adults was 0.08 per cent, corresponding to approximately 5,400 new cases of HIV per year in Rwanda.

Among all adults living with HIV, 76 per cent had suppressed viral loads - 79.1 per cent among women and 70.5 per cent among men.

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