Rwanda: Fight Against HIV to Target High-Risk Groups

Published: August 20, 2012

Some HIV/Aids high-risk groups such as truck drivers and sex workers are the latest targets in the battle to minimize new infections. Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, Head of HIV/AIDS and other Blood Infectious Diseases Division in Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), says the latest findings on HIV among the most exposed groups indicate that there is a great need to give them more attention.
For instance, data shows that only 10% of the interviewed truck drivers reported to have consistently used a condom during the 12 months preceding the survey, even though they regularly have sex. "We found that truck drivers have sex at a high rate, but what’s worrying is that most of them do not use condom consistently," Nsanzimana explains.
The findings indicate that among drivers, the infection rate is 2%; though Nsanzimana says this rate might be very low compared to reality. He says they had planned to interview 500 drivers, but only 200 accepted probably because the others apparently feared to know about their status.
Health officials therefore observe that there is a need to find other mechanisms to reach the drivers. "It requires changing the methodology to reach a large part of these target groups," notes Catherine Kayitesi, another RBC’s official.
Two years ago, Nsanzimana mentions, a study by a university student in Butare had revealed an infection rate of 15% among truck drivers, an estimate which officials say would be more realistic. Therefore, he says they are still preparing another study to confirm the real status of HIV infection among the drivers.
According to the findings, truck drivers – especially those who are married – are likely to spread HIV infection if nothing is done. The study for instance shows that only 27% of those who were not married use condoms consistently versus 3% among those who were married.
Therefore, Nsanzimana says they are working on the issue by targeting the drivers wherever they are as their job inherently means they do not stay in the same place. "The first action for us is to identify them wherever they are, what they are doing and the infection rate among them; and then to take measures by providing them with services," he explains, adding that they established mobile health facilities at borders crossings.
The services include providing condoms, antiretroviral treatment (ART), brochures and recorded messages talking about how to prevent HIV infection among others, Nsanzimana mentions, adding that they have been also talking with their counterparts from the region so that the drivers can get the same services wherever they are in the region.

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