President's Note from the Field: Progress in Rwanda
Charles Lyons (Photo: Benjamin Myers)
I recently returned from Rwanda, where I saw the country’s incredible strides in fighting pediatric AIDS
. Rwanda is approaching universal access to HIV prevention and treatment services for mothers and infants throughout the country – one of the leaders among African nations in these efforts, and its example should be studied closely.
I had the opportunity to meet with both Rwandan and U.S. officials, as well other global and national organizations with whom we have incredible partnerships. I also had the privilege of meeting numerous health care workers and patients while visiting two health facilities supported by the Foundation and USAID through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
This short video captures my impressions and experiences from my visit, and includes some breathtaking photographs that I hope you’ll enjoy:
Impressions from Rwanda from EGPAF on Vimeo.
My first visit was to the Muhima Hospital and Health Center, an urban facility in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. Muhima is a large hospital that provides maternity support and prenatal care for more than 3,000 women a year. It also has the distinction of being the first center to offer prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission (PTMCT) services in Rwanda. Today, nearly 230 HIV-positive pregnant women a year receive these services before and after labor in an effort to prevent HIV transmission to their infants.
No opportunity is lost to counsel and test mothers for HIV as part of regular prenatal care and delivery at the hospital. There is excellent follow-up care for HIV-exposed infants after birth, ensuring that they’re tested for the virus by the time they are 9 months old – and the hospital’s initiative to involve partners and husbands is also highly successful, with nearly 100 percent of male partners tested for HIV last year.
I then went to a rural facility, the Nzige Health Center, a small cluster of buildings on the crest of a hill about an hour outside the capital. There I met with two associations of people living with HIV and AIDS. These groups meet regularly to build community efforts to fight HIV and to offer counseling and support to those who learn their HIV status. They also encourage patients to create income generating activities to improve their ability to earn a living and to integrate in the community free of stigma and discrimination.
Another highlight of my trip was an event commemorating the Foundation’s 20th Anniversary
, which included a photo exhibit of the children, mothers, and families we’ve met and helped in Rwanda.
It was particularly gratifying to hear the U.S. Ambassador in Rwanda, Stuart Symington, acknowledge the achievements of the Foundation and the impact of our work, by saying, "This is not the celebration of 20 years, but a celebration of millions who would not have been born, and if born, would not have lived. If we are to do one thing in our lives, we could do more to ensure a brighter future for Rwanda."
Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, also noted that today, 75 percent of pregnant mothers who need PMTCT services in Rwanda are able to get them.
This is living proof that Rwanda is well down the path to eliminating pediatric HIV and AIDS. I hope you are inspired as I am to continue our work toward the elimination of pediatric AIDS.
Charles Lyons is the president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.