A positive way to make a difference
By Mia Brandt and Misbah M. Sheikh
Kacyiru Health Center, Kigali, Rwanda, June 2010 - In the heart of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, there is a centre that provides holistic services to families to prevent the transmission of HIV from parents to their children. This innovative “Family Package” programme, currently being implemented in seven health centers around the country with UNICEF support, offers a range of different services to prevent, treat and support children, women and men who live with HIV.
Not only do women who come to the center get counseling – with some of the counselors being HIV-positive women themselves - but they get lifesaving anti-retrovirals to help them live healthier longer lives. They are also introduced to income generating projects that will help them sustain their families, as well as learn how to grow vegetables and create wonderful gardens from the materials and skills they get from the center, all the while learning about optimal nutrition for their children and themselves.
Rose Manirarora’s life has been transformed by the Family Package. She is thirty years old and is married to Francois Musengamana. Both live with HIV. They have four children, two from previous marriages and two together. Their children Frank Zezerano (1 ½) and Anne Marie Uwera (3) are HIV-negative thanks to PMTCT interventions from Kacyiru Health Centre.
But Francois’ 11 year old daughter, Beata, lives with HIV like her parents; her mother died of AIDS. “If it wasn’t for PMTCT interventions”, says Rose, “our two children would also have had to live with HIV like us. We are so grateful this is not the case. Not only are they healthy, but I have a little garden where I grow vegetables to ensure that all the children, but especially Beata, always eat nutritious food.”
“But what I value most from the family package programme is the fact that I know that Frank and I are not alone anymore. At Kacyiru, we have a whole association of people who live with HIV. I have found solace and strength in sharing my problems with others and being part of a community. For the first time in a long time, I am happy. I have learned how to sew and this has earned my family money. This has enabled us to purchase what our children need to make them happy too”, she smiles.
Over 7,700 newborns would be infected annually by HIV in Rwanda if there were no PMTCT interventions. As it is, despite Rwanda’s low HIV prevalence rate of 3%, over 20,000 children under the age of 15 live with HIV, an estimated 90% of HIV infections occur due to mother-to-child transmission.
UNICEF supports national efforts to reduce prevalence, provide treatment and care and protect the most vulnerable children under the larger umbrella of the UN in Rwanda and in partnership with agencies like Zonta International, the Global Fund and the Imbuto and Clinton Foundations.