Child Health and HIV/AIDS

UNICEF strives to keep every child in Rwanda alive, healthy, and free from HIV and AIDS.

A baby in Rwanda rests in the hospital neonatal ward
UNICEF/UN0303033/Bell

The Challenge

Globally, 80 per cent of newborns die from preventable and treatable causes. In Rwanda, UNICEF is committed to ensure that every child receives quality care that meets international standards. 

Rwanda has reduced the number of young child deaths by nearly 70 per cent.

Just over a decade ago, for every 1,000 live births, 152 children did not survive to celebrate their fifth birthday. This number has declined to 50 deaths for every 1,000 live births.

Just as impressive is the decline in deaths among mothers. A decade ago, 750 mothers died for every 100,000 live births, but this has also declined to 210.

Although these improvements are impressive, the numbers are still unacceptable. Over 40 per cent of under-five deaths in Rwanda are children within their first month of life.

Surprisingly, a very high number of these newborn deaths occur in health facilities, which often lack the equipment or skilled professionals to save lives. Children from low-income families are more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as those from high-income families.

A baby in Musanze, northern Rwanda, receives one of his first vaccinations.
UNICEF/UN0310754/Muellenmeister
A baby in Musanze, northern Rwanda, receives one of his first vaccinations. UNICEF supports the Government to ensure every child receives the right immunisations at the right time.

Rwanda could be one of the first African countries to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The country has made great progress responding to the HIV epidemic. Just 3 per cent of adults are HIV-positive, and this number has remained stable for more than a decade. Around 75 per cent of people living with HIV receive antiretroviral drugs.

Almost 95 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV take antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmitting HIV to their children. As a result, mother-to-child transmission of HIV over the last 3 years is just 2 per cent.

However, young people in Rwanda still struggle to understand HIV prevention and treatment. They often face stigma and do not go for regular HIV testing, and very few young people use condoms to prevent HIV.

These young people have specific needs and barriers that must be addressed, and communities must be supported to treatment and peer-support services for adolescents living with HIV.  

A mother and her baby son visit with their nurse outside a health centre in Rwanda.
UNICEF/UN0310759/Muellenmeister
A mother and her baby son visit with their nurse outside a health centre in Rwanda. Improving the knowledge and skills of health professionals is key to reducing the number of maternal and child deaths.

The Solution

To ensure that every child in Rwanda survives and thrives, UNICEF focuses on reducing mother and child deaths, new HIV infections, and AIDS-related deaths among women and children, including adolescents.

To tackle these challenges, UNICEF focuses on four priority areas:

Born premature, a small baby rests against his mother's chest in a hospital in Rwanda, both wrapped in a cloth.
Reducing maternal and newborn deaths
A baby at a health centre in Rwanda with his mother.
Reducing deaths among babies aged 1-59 months
Youth in Rwanda visits an HIV testing centre for adolescents.
Reducing new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths
A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman at Ruhengeri Hospital, Musanze in northern Rwanda.
Strengthening health systems

Maternal and newborn mortality

To reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths, UNICEF focuses on improving the quality of health care in Rwanda, especially intrapartum care – when the baby is being delivered – and care of small and sick newborns.

UNICEF provides life-saving medical equipment to health facilities which serve over 4 million people, or 36 per cent of the population in Rwanda.

But bringing equipment alone will not save precious lives. UNICEF also brings highly qualified neonatal care specialists from both outside and within the country through partnerships with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Rwanda Paediatrics Association (RPA). These specialists mentor Rwandan doctors, nurses and midwives, improving their skills in caring for newborns. The mentors not only train staff, but also establish important systems like case management and patient records.

 

Young child mortality

Children aged 1 and 59 months old often die of preventable and treatable diseases simply because their parents do not seek timely medical care. UNICEF works to change these behaviours among families and children’s caregivers and helps train health professionals to treat common illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia or malaria.

These two young girls in Rwanda have just received their vaccinations against HPV to prevent cervical cancer.
UNICEF/UN0258669/Rusanganwa
These two young girls have just received their vaccinations against HPV to prevent cervical cancer. In Rwanda, vaccination against HPV starts in primary school, and with UNICEF support, the Government has achieved over 90% coverage of this vaccine.

Preventing HIV and AIDS

UNICEF strives to improve HIV prevention, treatment and care services in Rwanda, especially for pregnant women, young children and adolescents. This includes linking treatment services with peer support networks so that people living with HIV receive care and continue seeking this care, especially in districts and urban areas with higher burdens of HIV.

 

Strengthening health systems

UNICEF supports the Government to strengthen national health systems, helping ensure greater availability of quality services, equity-focused programmes, and better use of real-time data and policies, especially in low-performing areas.