Op-Ed: Rwanda and the U.S. fight HIV/AIDS together
By Ambassador Peter H. Vrooman
Published Thursday, November 28, 2019
The New Times (Kigali, Rwanda)
Kigali – World AIDS Day this year marks a historic moment in the response to HIV/AIDS, as Rwanda gets closer to epidemic control. Rwanda has come an incredible distance in the past 15 years, but the final steps toward reaching and sustaining epidemic control may prove to be the most difficult yet.
I am confident that Rwanda is up to the challenge. Rwanda has become a global leader in the fight against HIV thanks to strong leadership, steadfast commitment, and strategic partnerships. Next week’s International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) hosted here in Kigali is a perfect example.
The U.S. government, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has supported Rwanda’s progress on this front with more than US$1 billion over the past 15 years to provide testing, life-saving medication, and capacity-building for community health care workers. This investment has helped to save an entire generation. We are committed to continuing this partnership as Rwanda plans for the future of the HIV response.
People living with HIV depend on effective collaboration between the Ministry of Health, civil society organisations, UNAIDS, the Global Fund, and many other partners to improve the national HIV response each and every day. These collective efforts include enhancing prevention activities and improving healthcare services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
We must reach the populations who have been missed, those who are not linked to treatment, or those whose viral load is not suppressed. The recent Rwanda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA) survey highlighted certain groups that will require focused attention going forward and gives us an opportunity to target such interventions. For example, we need to ensure that health services are accessible to young men and women between the ages 15-34.
Last month, I met with the Embassy’s DREAMS program, an initiative that goes beyond the health sector to address the issues that put young women at higher risk of acquiring HIV. My visit with these inspirational young women showed me the importance of strengthening prevention programming that empowers young women, so that we can keep them HIV-free or prevent additional transmission.
There is a Rwandan proverb – “kugera kure siko gupfa” – that conveys that getting sick does not necessarily mean death. Indeed, with advances in available treatment, an HIV-positive diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. On the contrary, someone diagnosed with HIV can now live a long and healthy life with medication, which is available free of charge here in Rwanda. When the medication is used properly, the virus level becomes virtually undetectable in the body, effectively reducing the risk that can be sexually transmitted.
As we mark World AIDS Day and the start of ICASA 2019, Rwanda and its partners are in reach of epidemic control. Together, we will continue to work to ensure that all people living with HIV are given the opportunity to live long and healthy lives. Together, we are succeeding in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Amb. Peter H. Vrooman (@USAmbRwanda) is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service and has served as the Ambassador of the United States of America to Rwanda since March 2018.