Pregnant women and orphans in Rwanda share common hurdles to
accessing the prevention and treatment to remain HIV negative. For some, the
challenges may seem insurmountable - the distance to the closest health clinic
is too far, the questions about care too numerous. Yet despite these
challenges, Rwanda has not reported one
case of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in three years.[i]
How has the nation been able to accomplish this astounding
benchmark? The answer, in part, is that Rwanda is taking healthcare to the grassroots
level. Within the PEACE Plan and the HIV&AIDS Initiative, this looks like utilizing
laypeople serving their local churches as community healthcare volunteers.
These volunteers, called Community PEACE Servants, have been successful at
forging relationships and performing home visits with the people in their
communities requiring screening and care, including women of reproductive age.
Pregnant women are an important group to test for HIV because an HIV positive
mother can pass the virus onto her baby during birth or breastfeeding. However,
it is possible to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV if the mother is
tested and treated during her pregnancy.
Pregnant women in given regions of Rwanda face challenges to
receive the treatment they so greatly need for both themselves and their
babies. The long treks to the clinics
where they receive their HIV treatment offers a physical toll, emotional drain
in remembering to manage their medications and contending with the long waits
for services and counseling, as well as financial strain in loss wages due to having
to take time off of work. Though these women are receiving the life-sustaining
treatments they need for their health and the well being of their babies, the
many barriers they face can be a major deterrent to proper adherence,
compromising their ability to properly stave off the virus. Volunteer health
workers serving their churches have been able to successfully counter these
barriers by taking primary healthcare directly to them. A connected community
with an invested stake in assisting their friends and neighbors allows their
local churches to become the connection to care.
Beyond pregnant women, PEACE servants also serve another
vulnerable group – orphans and vulnerable children. Adolescents living with HIV
are two times more likely than their adult counterparts to incorrectly take
their medication, take them incorrectly, or halt treatment completely.[ii] Outside
of the care of a family, these adherence number drop even more significantly. Communities
have an important stake in ensuring that adolescents are consistent with their
HIV treatment as it benefits the public’s health. These PEACE Servants and
their local churches can be the partners for vulnerable youth to help them
access testing and to ensure proper adherence to medication. Furthermore, the
local church can act to prevent children from being orphaned at all by working
towards ending the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and getting to zero new infections.
In Rwanda, churches are working to address the current
orphan care crisis and to address children’s need for a family by
helping orphans gain a new family through adoption. The church can help
children remain in their current family if it is safe, or they can help
children reunite with their families if they are separated (since most children
in orphanages have families in the communities but need the church to help the
family become safe, healthy, and financially and emotionally ready to care).
Learn more about the work happening in Rwanda to get orphans into families at www.OrphansandtheChurch.com.
Will you and your church join us in the goal of getting to zero new babies born
with HIV and zero orphans? To learn more about how to start an HIV ministry at
your church or how to partner with the work Saddleback HIV&AIDS Initiative
is doing both domestically and globally, go to hivandthechurch.com. Questions?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or