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Community health education helps to prevent HIV transmission in Rwanda

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Nkurunziza
Gad Rwamungu is living with HIV in Rwanda, unlike his wife Jeannette Kibukayire and their six children, and a community health education programme has taught him the dangers of unprotected sex.

By Sam Nkurunziza

MUHURA, Rwanda, 1 February 2011 – A decade after a joint programme to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to children was introduced at the Muhura Health Centre in eastern Rwanda, the results are impressive.

Hundreds of couples turn up every month at the centre to receive counselling and anti-retroviral medications. Both residents and health workers say that a significant change has taken place – a change that is not limited to mothers and children.

“When the programme started 10 years ago, it was mostly women who were conscious about spreading HIV to their unborn children. Now the trend has changed, and men are also concerned,” notes health worker Marie Clair Uwimana.

Raising awareness

Ms. Uwimana attributes the change to a family-based approach that helps parents understand the importance of knowing their HIV status, along with information on other important issues such as breastfeeding, nutrition, immunization and family planning. She explains that community health education and raising awareness about HIV are crucial in the battle against AIDS.

Gad Rwamungu, 50, and his wife Jeannette Kibukayire, 47, are the parents of six children. Unlike his wife and their children, Mr. Rwamungu is living with HIV.

“When I learned that I was HIV-positive after the birth of our last child seven years ago, I agreed with my wife never to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse,” he says. “We have even talked about HIV with the children, and there is absolutely no problem. What we have learned at this clinic, all married couples should know about. If other couples elsewhere follow suit, future generations will benefit.”

Comprehensive approach

Statistics show that at least 170,000 people are living with HIV in Rwanda, where the government has taken an aggressive stance on HIV prevention and treatment. With UNICEF’s support, it has modelled a comprehensive approach to prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus – also known as PMTCT – in seven health centres around the country.

“Without such an approach of early prevention, identification and treatment, half of all children diagnosed with HIV would die before their second birthday,” explains UNICEF Rwanda PMTCT Specialist Elevanie Nyankesha.



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