Rwandan Women Infected With HIV Through Rape During 1994 Genocide Ask U.S. for Help Obtaining Drugs
Rwandan women who were infected with HIV through mass rapes during the country's 1994 genocide on Monday asked the United States to assist them in obtaining medications to fight the disease, Reuters/Newark Star-Ledger reports. Rwanda this week marks the 10th anniversary of the country's genocide, when Hutu extremists in three months killed more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates. During the genocide, Hutu militia raped Tutsi women "in a deliberate plan to use AIDS as a weapon that could go on killing long after they had murdered their other victims," according to Reuters/Star-Ledger (Green, Reuters/Newark Star-Ledger, 4/6). According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an estimated 500,000 Rwandan women were raped during the 1994 genocide. AVEGA-AGAHOZO, a Rwandan organization also known as Widows of the Genocide, last year polled and tested 1,200 of its 25,000 members and found that 80% had been raped and 66% were HIV-positive (Nelson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/5). Although the cost of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV infection has dropped over the past few years, few of the women can afford the medications and many "feel forgotten by an outside world that has failed to help them" access the drugs, Reuters/Star-Ledger reports. Some aid agencies have begun small-scale HIV/AIDS treatment projects, but Rwandan officials complain that their efforts are not enough, according to Reuters/Star-Ledger (Reuters/Newark Star-Ledger, 4/6). Providing antiretroviral drugs for the 7,800 Avega members who need the drugs would cost $8.4 million a year, according to the Journal-Constitution. However, with a total annual budget of $26,800, the group is able to provide the drugs to only 22 of its members, the Journal-Constitution reports.
Although the U.S. Embassy in Kigali recently received $12.5 million for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, HIV-positive genocide rape survivors represent a small percentage of the people living with HIV in Rwanda, and it is "unclear" what percentage of the funds will target them, according to the Journal-Constitution (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/5). Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper on Monday said he would do what he could to urge the United States to send drugs to the women, many of whom are widows. "We're looking to see how we can use some of the money that we pledged for HIV/AIDS to help specifically with the genocide survivors," Prosper said, adding, "I understand that the suffering continues" (Reuters/Newark Star-Ledger, 4/6).
Clinton Opinion Piece
Although the global community cannot "go back and amend our collective failures in Rwanda ... it is not too late to unleash the political will, resources and global commitment required to tackle Rwanda's latest challenge -- the scourge of an HIV/AIDS epidemic that threatens the lives of virtually all Rwandans," former President Bill Clinton writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. The Rwandan government and people have made the fight against HIV/AIDS a "priority" by "allocating scarce resources and countering stigmas attached to the disease by speaking frankly, and frequently, about the challenge" and are showing the "conviction, determination and compassion needed to tackle" the epidemic, Clinton says. With help from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. government, Rwanda in June 2003 approved a National HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care Plan, and about 2,700 of the country's 500,000 HIV-positive people are receiving antiretroviral treatment, according to Clinton. "But the fight is far from over, and urgent assistance -- monetary and technical -- is needed to turn the tide," he says, concluding, "In helping Rwanda confront the specter of HIV/AIDS, we all have an opportunity to move decisively and to stop a second national tragedy" (Clinton, Washington Post, 4/6).