HIV/AIDS Conference in Rwanda Closes; Speakers Urge Increased Prevention, Treatment, Care Efforts
The 2007 HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, closed on Tuesday with speakers calling on participants to continue the fight against the disease, reach communities with relevant care and treatment programs and provide HIV-positive people with employment opportunities, VOA News reports (Majtenyi, VOA News, 6/19). More than 2,000 delegates attended the four-day conference, which was hosted by the Rwandan government and organized by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Other organizers include UNAIDS, the World Bank, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/19).
Rwandan first lady Jeanette Kagame closed the conference on Tuesday and called on African government and societies to address taboos associated with HIV/AIDS, discourage unsafe-sex practices and increase prevention efforts among children. She also said that conference participants should continue to fight HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. "Too often, we are elaborating our efforts to protect the reputation of the wealthy and say they died or are suffering from ailments other than AIDS," Kagame said, adding, "But at the same time, we are quick to judge the poor as irresponsible when they become victims of this scourge. AIDS does not make social judgments, so why do we? AIDS does not affect families based on their economic wealth, so why should we?"
In addition, several speakers throughout the conference promoted efforts to make HIV/AIDS programs and services relevant to the people they aim to reach and to involve local communities in the creation and implementation of these programs (VOA News, 6/19).
Cultural Traditions Hindering Use of Female Condoms, Delegates Say
Conference delegates also discussed how cultural traditions are among the main reasons for the low rate of female condom use, the New Times/AllAfrica.com reports.
Sarah Kambou, vice president of health and development at the International Center for Research on Women, said that "women don't know how they introduce" female condoms to their husbands, adding that a lot of advocacy is needed to "overcome this challenge." David Wilson, a member of the World Bank's Global AIDS Monitoring and Evaluation Team, said that the reason why female condoms are not popular is because women often lack empowerment in society.
David Apuuli, director-general of the Uganda AIDS Commission, said that it is difficult in African societies for women to promote condom use to their husbands. He added that another potential reason is that in "some cases, women who use [condoms] have complained that they are not user friendly" and that "they make a lot of noise during sexual intercourse." Apuuli also said that some condoms have been rejected because of their bad smell (Musoni, New Times/AllAfrica.com, 6/18).
HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care Access Among Children
In related news, Agnes Binagwaho, executive secretary of Rwanda's National AIDS Commission, at the conference said that there are many obstacles preventing HIV-positive children from receiving access to HIV testing, treatment and care, VOA News reports. "Because parents feel themselves responsible for the HIV status of their children, they cannot face the situation for themselves," she said, adding, "Parents do not know how to talk about AIDS with their children." According to Binagwaho, health care workers "fail to manage and treat children infected by HIV." She said that workers "do not know when and how to prescribe" antiretroviral drugs, adding that they "do not have sufficient skills on how to counsel children."
In addition to HIV/AIDS-related stigma, some experts say that inadequate pediatric HIV testing, treatment and counseling facilities hinder efforts to identify and provide treatment to HIV-positive children in Africa.
Speakers at the conference said that health care workers can start looking for potentially HIV-positive children in mother-to-child HIV prevention programs, which are available in most countries. According to VOA News, initiatives recommended at the conference or currently used in African facilities to increase access among children include encouraging HIV-positive parents to test their children; training health care workers on how to test children for HIV and counsel children who test positive; extending HIV testing and counseling services to pediatric departments in hospitals and communities; and partnering with the media to promote awareness about HIV/AIDS and children (VOA News, 6/18).
Webcasts of select sessions from the 2007 HIV Implementers' Meeting will be available online soon from kaisernetwork.org.