Her Excellency Jeannette Nyiramongi Kagame, first lady of
Rwanda, gave a speech at amfAR’s Capitol Hill Conference last month among a
line-up of esteemed speakers—including Dr. Susan Blumenthal, amfAR Senior
Policy and Medical Advisor and Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS
Mrs. Kagame spoke of her own nation’s fight against HIV and
AIDS, “Against the backdrop of a genocide legacy, our nation’s response to
HIV/AIDS became even more complex. Nevertheless, with committed and forward
looking leadership, we were convinced that addressing the issue of women and
HIV/AIDS would be more effective if we took a holistic approach; one that
combined laws and policies, with the implementation of various programs that
favor women and girls.”
The First Lady highlighted a number of those policies in
Rwanda, which include:
• Rwanda enjoys the highest female legislative representation worldwide at 64%.
• 40% of the cabinet and judiciary
• The legal marriage
age is 21 years as
stipulated by law. This law was
enacted to protect adolescent girls from early marriages.
• An inheritance law that grants equal inheritance rights to men and women was passed (poverty is a contributing factor in
• Rwanda was the first African country where the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine
was administered. Today 93% of girls aged 12-17 are vaccinated for cervical
• Girls’ enrolment rate at primary
is at 98%.
• Prevention of Mother to Child transmission (PMTCT) services
are available in 97% of all
and transmission has dropped to 2%.
• HIV testing among young women has increased from about 10% in 2005 to almost 60% in 2010.
• Community Based Health
Insurance adherence is at 73% as of 2013
• 45,000 community
health workers raise
awareness in communities about HIV prevention, testing and adherence to treatment. Two
thirds of them are women.
She noted that these policies have resulted in a decrease in
maternal mortality from 8 deaths a day to less than 1 per day. The First Lady
also touched on Rwanda’s work towards sustainable financing in the midst of diminishing
funds for HIV/AIDS – plans that include increased focus on public private
partnership and innovation.
“Despite encouraging advances we see on the HIV front, we
need to be ever conscious of the treat it poses to humankind. The most
troubling part about HIV is that we have not mastered the virus: neither its
mutations nor its mobility…It is evident that no state, country, or continent
is completely safe from this ticking time bomb of a virus, that can explode
without any notice.”
In closing, Her Excellency, co-founder of the Organization
of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, spoke of the importance of combating
HIV/AIDS by empowering women around the world: “But, let us not let our guard
down or take our eyes off the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Let us resist the natural urge
to become complacent, or worn-out. Let the modest progress we have made, not
render us insensitive or forgetful, that this virus is still alive in 35
million adults globally, half of which are women.”
To learn more about how the HIV&AIDS Initiative is
empowering community health volunteers in local churches in Rwanda, or for more
information about Rwanda HIV&AIDS PEACE trips, email HIV@saddleback.com.