Rwanda Launches National PMTCT Campaign

13/5/2011 - Rwanda's First Lady has announced a national campaign for the prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.

Officials in Rwanda have announced the launch of a national campaign to end the vertical transmission of HIV. Vertical transmission is also known as mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).

The launch of the campaign by Rwandan First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, was well-attended. Guests included the Minister of Health, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa and bilateral partners such as the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation.

Elhadj As Sy, the UNICEF Regional Director, was confident that the rate of MTCT can be brought down to only 2%.

“In order to achieve this goal, we have to make sure that all pregnant women with HIV can participate in prevention programmes, including adolescent girls and those living in remote areas,” he said.

UNICEF confirmed its support for the programme, which aims to reach all pregnant women by 2015. The agency will help the Rwandan government in identifying and closing the gaps in access to essential HIV services, while solving the hold-ups that keep women from being able to make use of existing services.

Some of the key goals of the campaign include ensuring expanded access to family planning services and HIV drugs for all women in need. Earlier access to health care for pregnant women is an additional step that needs to be taken. 

The prevention of MTCT must also be addressed in term of the wider dynamics of the pandemic. While Rwanda has among the lowest HIV prevalence rates in its region, women of a reproductive age are vulnerable to infection. Bringing down prevalence rates among pregnant women by preventing new infections is vital.

For instance, prevalence rates among pregnant women vary greatly. Nationally, 4.3% of pregnant women are living with HIV, as compared to 16-24% in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. Helping these women access the anti-retroviral drugs that keep HIV at bay will prolong their lives, and their ability to raise their children. As of 2009, Rwanda was home to 130,000 AIDS orphans. AIDS orphans make up about 18.8% of all the orphans in the country.

Of the 20,000 children under the age of 15 who are living with HIV, 90% were infected by their mothers through breastfeeding, childbirth or in utero. Without steps to prevent vertical transmission, the risk of MTCT can be as high as 30%.

With the help of its partners, Rwanda has made gains in a very short amount of time.  Now, 82% of health facilities offer prevention of MTCT services, as compared to only 42% six years ago.

“Mothers in urban areas and those in rural areas are now getting the same services,” said Mrs. Kagame.

With further interventions, headway on meeting the Millennium Development Goals can be sped up.  Already, Rwanda is “on track” to meeting six out of the eight goals – including goals on child and maternal health, as well as HIV/AIDS.