The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, varies in prevalence from nation to nation and different locations in the same country.
According to statistics from Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), the national HIV prevalence rate has remained relatively stable 3.1 percent among adults with ages 15-49 but higher in the City of Kigali 6.3 percentages and highest among key populations especially Female sex workers (45.8%) and 4% among men who have sex with men.
In the framework of Fast track cities initiative, 40 high level representatives of faith-based organizations met to discuss on strategies to advance the Fast Track agenda for controlling AIDS epidemic in the City of Kigali and nationally.
High level representatives of catholic, Muslims, protestant and various interfaith religious organizations had an opportunity to be briefed on global targets and countries commitment in this journey towards ending AIDS epidemic.
Recognizing the role of Faith based organizations in the response to AIDS, Mr Ruturwa highlighted that evidence shows that faith-based organizations have been, and are, major providers of HIV related services. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that faith-based groups provide between 30% and 70% of all health care in Africa. In some areas, faith-based hospitals or clinics are the only health-care facilities that exist.
Talking about the situation of AIDS epidemic in the City of Kigali it has been noted that HIV prevalence increases with age therefore evidence informed actions are needed to advance the fight against AIDS epidemic in cities and nationally.
It is upon this background that religious leaders have been urged to play a vital role in the effort to the fight against the epidemic since they hold a powerful position. To keep off discussions, the Archbishop of Catholic church in Rwanda Mr Tadhée Ntihinyurwa urged fellow religious leaders to take evidence informed actions to advance HIV prevention and promote retention in care. “An integrated communication approach is needed in this journey towards the attainment of sustainable goals…we religious leaders have an important role to play in prevention, treatment, care and support” reiterated the Archbishop Mr Tadhée.
Most argue religious leaders and institutions are slow and sometimes even counterproductive in fighting the epidemic, in particular, the Catholic. Church’s stunning refusal to encourage the use of condom.
During a one-day training workshop organized by Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH) and sponsored by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), over 40 religious community leaders from 3 districts of Kigali: Gasabo, Kikukiro, Nyarugenge including Kamonyi and Bugesera were trained to strategies to mainstream response to HIV among top priorities of the church.
In his remarks, Diedonne Ruturwa from UNAIDS said faith-based organizations have an essential role to play in this journey towards controlling AIDS epidemic by implementing innovations in communication and support to vulnerable populations. Talking about the Fast Track cities initiative he mentioned that A Fast-Track AIDS response means that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people living with HIV who know their status receive HIV treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load and eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
He recommended religious leaders to work with other organizations and government in order to come up with strategies to fight this epidemic to meet the national zero strategy and global target of 2030.
“Let me thank RICH, civil society and the good leadership from the Government for the work they are doing to fight Aids, religious leaders can also help to fight the epidemic in communities,” he pointed out.
Adding that the SDG’s target is to make sure 90 per cent of the population gets tested to know their status, while those infected should seek for early treatment.
He also commended church leaders to sensitize the masses about the epidemic by integrating programs, coming up with innovations and accelerating processes.
Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) taught religious leaders about the various programs of epidemic which include prevention, treatment, nutrition, shelter and psychological.
RBC further proposed, sensitizing religious communities to break the misbelieves about treatment to improve adherence, embrace positive behaviours, to promote peer support, improving on early uptake of HIV drugs, encouraging self-tests and to work closely with public health agents.
On behalf of RICH, retired Archbishop of Kigali Bishop Tadhee Ntininyurwa explained that the non-profit organization is working with government and the Ministry of health in several districts to fight against AIDS epidemic in Rwanda.
“RICH was established in 2003 under the theme of “Rwanda Network of Religious Organizations against HIV/AIDS as a non-profit organization to fight the epidemic by ensuring effective coordination and interventions in response to health at districts levels,” he noted.
Some of the community religious leaders who were listening explained that they organize seminars and congregations to sensitize masses about the epidemic however they cite a decline in resources from donors as one of the main challenges faced.
Stephanie Mukansanga from New Life Church in Gatenga said “As members of the church we have an established department to help people with HIV in the community.
“Apart from counseling and praying for them every Sunday the church collects money from congregation to offer to the sick, we feel it’s our role to support the needy,” She explained.
RBC emphasized that other religious institutions also need to move on from praying for a cure for Aids and realize they too can help people struck with the disease and promote safe sex and healthy behaviors that can prevent HIV infection. They need to emphasize that with a little foresight and self-awareness, HIV is preventable.
Talking about the importance of HIV testing. It was highlighted that Knowing your HIV status contributes to reduce risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, knowledge of HIV status allows you to have access to HIV care, treatment and support. Furthermore, knowledge of HIV status enables you to plan for better future. Knowledge is power emphasised Mr Ruturwa.
The workshop provided opportunity for religious leaders to develop an action plan for push forward evidence informed communications to prevention both HIV and Gender based violence as twin epidemics and promote retention in care programs for those who are HIV positive. National authorities of HIV response and UNAIDS reiterated their commitment to work hand in hand with religious leaders to advance the response to AIDS in cities and nationally.