STD fears as condom use shunned in Rwanda

Condom use across the country is on the decline, raising fears of an increase in the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases ahead of this year’s World Aids Day commemorations.

While Rwanda’s HIV prevalence — which refers to the number of cases of a disease that are present in a particular population at a given time — has been contained at 3 per cent over the past decade, there is a concern that condom use, particularly among young, sexually active people, remains low, increasing the risk of new infections.

This is largely attributed to stigma, whereby young people are forced to shun condom use in fear of being harshly judged by the society.

Moreover, there is also limited supply of condoms, particularly in public places. Many prominent social places such as clubs, bars and hotels either have defective condom dispensers or none at all. Yet, even in places where condom dispensers are available, they are rarely used.

A survey by Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) among a cross-section of population groups most susceptible to HIVAids infections recently revealed that condom use has declined, which perhaps explains the increase in HIV prevalence among certain groups.

The survey shows that only 25 per cent of those who had casual sex consistently used condoms, as did a mere 33.1 per cent of those who tested HIV positive.

Condom use was also found to be minimal among the gay community and female commercial sex workers, which has led to an increase in HIV prevalence in these already high-risk population groups.

READ: HIV prevalence among female sex workers, gays rises: Report

“There is a strong need to improve programmes and interventions that contribute to universal and consistent use of condoms,” reads the report.

It is estimated that 36.9 million people are living with HIVAids worldwide and 210,000 in Rwanda, which has a prevalence of 2.8 per cent in the 15-49 age group.

According to Justus Kamwesigye, strategic information aisor at UNAIDS Rwanda, although the number of cases of have remained low at the national level, the prevalence rate is higher around Kigali, at 7.3 per cent and 8.2 per cent in Nyarugenge District of the city.

Mr Kamwesigye said an estimated 210,000 people are living with HIV in Rwanda, more than 90 per cent of them over 15. More than 85 per cent of the people living with HIV have been tested and know their HIV status.

“This means that 73 per cent of all people living with HIV in Rwanda are receiving treatment,” he said.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 15.8 million people are on HIV treatment, double of the figure five years ago, as countries adopt the UNAIDS Fast-Track Strategy using data to fine-tune delivery of HIV prevention and treatment services to reach people being left behind.

By June this year, UNAIDS estimates that 15.8 million people were accessing antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, compared to 7.5 million in 2010 and 2.2 million in 2005. By the end of last year, new HIV infections had fallen by 35 per cent since the peak in 2000 while Aids-related deaths had dropped by 42 per cent.

“Every five years we have more than doubled the number of people on life-saving treatment,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. “We need to do it just one more time to break the Aids epidemic and keep it from rebounding.”