Inside a stadium in Musanze district, hundreds flocked to a spot where free condoms were being distributed. The crowd here is mostly women.
It was celebrations to mark World Condom Day, that is on February 13, but was held this Tuesday February 18, in Musanze. This region in northwestern Rwanda has many unique feats.
Not only is it among 6 key cities in the country, it is fastest growing due to tourism dollars and good climatic conditions favourable for agriculture. The people there have plenty to eat.
With quick development comes increased health risks especially exposure to HIV/Aids. Latest Government data shows that new infections have dropped in Musanze compared to previous estimates in 2015.
Among the tools helping control the spread is condoms. However, at the event in Musanze stadium, there were only male condoms on display, which many of the women flocking here questioned.
Kampire Alphonsine, is a married mother of two from Muhoza sector. She has been married for 9 years, and is eager to reveal that in her marriage, the husband sometimes uses condoms. They agreed to use them for family planning reasons.
Kampire is concerned that because it is her husband who is required to put on the rubber, they often end up not using condoms at the times they really need to.
“There are no female condoms available here yet health officials are always sensitising us about them,” said Kampire. “I would like to be in control to ensure our protection is not compromised, and the female condom grants me that.”
It is not just at that condom event in the stadium where condoms were lacking. Even at the health center and distribution kiosks, female condoms are not provided. Instead, there are loads of male condoms at any health facility, including free dispenser kiosks.
It is a sentiment shared by various women interviewed. They want accessibility to female condoms as it gives them control.
Uwimana Laetitia is a community health worker. She agrees that female condoms are unavailable but necessary. Part of her role in the community is to regularly pick up condoms from the health center, which she distributes freely.
Actually, every month, Uwimana receives pack containing 100 condoms. All are male condoms. Uwimana is only one of dozens of community health workers in Rwasa sector. There are nearly 50,000 of them across the country.
In Rwanda, every year, 20 million condoms are distributed by government and non –government organizations. Among those condoms, 15 million are bought in shops and 1.5 million are distributed through condom kiosks in high risk public places like spots common with sex workers in Kigali. At least 5 million condoms are distributed through health posts and rural health care workers.
For female condoms, they are not common. And some groups are taking action. HIV/Aids advocacy group AHF said at the condom day in Musanze that it will avail 4 million condoms including female ones in this year 2020.
“In Rwanda condom use among people who have more than one partner is less than 60% which is very low, so we need to continue to promote and advocate for condom distribution, condom promotion and condom use that is used correctly and consistently”, said Dr Brendah Asiimwe, AHF Rwanda Program Manager.
Dr Asiimwe’s colleague, Terri Ford, the AHF Chief of Global Policy and Advocacy, said condoms remain the most-cost effective option in preventing HIV, STI’s and unplanned pregnancies.
He said: “Getting free condoms to people who need them most has always been a priority for AHF, but we are stepping up our advocacy even more around the world in 2020 to help break down barriers to access, because condoms remain the most-cost effective option in preventing HIV, STI’s and unplanned pregnancies.”
Government and UN data on HIV/AIDS in Rwanda shows that women are the most affected. For 2019, UNAIDS estimates shows that in Rwanda there are 3,500 adult and child deaths due to AIDS, 1,700 deaths of women aged 15 and over compared to 1500 deaths of men aged 15 and over.
There are 193,726 adult and children taking Antiretroviral Therapy ART, among them 118,592 women aged 15 and above, and 67,589 men aged 15 and over.
Back to Musanze, local officials also agree that condoms are crucial to combat HIV. “The remaining challenge though is that people don’t want to be seen in public buying or even holding a condom,” said Kamanzi Axelle, vice-mayor in charge of social affairs for Musanze district.
“So I ask, would you rather be seen with HIV/Aids and having your last breathe or be seen buying a condom?”.