“You never know,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “I carry them just in case I find myself in a difficult situation… I don’t want to get pregnant or ill.”
Uwimana learned the consequences of unprotected sex the hard way. Five years ago, a sexual encounter without protection left her pregnant. Unable to care for her daughter in the city, she had to send her to live at her parents’ home up-country.
“The father is at school out of the country and I am a mere student who is equally struggling,” she told IRIN. “There was no way I could cope, so my parents are helping out.”
But despite her best intentions, she admitted to occasionally failing to use protection.
“Sometimes, it depends and sometimes one gets so excited,” she said.
High awareness, low use
Uwimana is typical of many young Rwandans who have heard about HIV and condoms, but still fail to use them consistently.
According to a 2008 health ministry survey, sexually active Rwandans use, on average, just three condoms every year.
A 2005 survey by social marketing NGO, Population Services International, found that more than 80 percent of Rwandans had seen a condom, had heard about condoms, and were aware of them as an HIV prevention method.
Officials say awareness about HIV has increased, but infection rates have not declined by the same proportion. Rwanda’s HIV national HIV prevalence is just over 3 percent – 2.2 percent in rural areas and 7.3 percent in urban areas.
A three-month campaign to advance the condom agenda and distribute 10 million condoms ends this month, but senior government officials say it is only the beginning of national efforts to popularize condom use.
Intensifying the campaign
“The use of condoms is a new national strategy,” Anita Asiimwe, executive secretary of the National AIDS Control Commission, CNLS, told IRIN/PlusNews, adding that the idea was to make sure “condoms are available when needed and that they are correctly and consistently used”.
According to Minister of Health Richard Sezibera, the target is young people because research shows that youngsters who use condoms the first time they have sex are more likely to engage in subsequent protective behaviour and experience fewer sexually transmitted infections than those who do not.
The current campaign involves a raft of activities, including condom distribution by village health workers, as well as in offices and health centres; and installing vending machines in ‘hot spots’ such as bars and night-clubs.
In Kigali, posters have sprouted at various places across the rolling hills to encourage condom use and warn against risky sexual behaviour. ‘Nkoresha Agakingirizo… Ni uburenganzira bwanjye kwirinda’ ‘ ‘I use a condom… it’s my right to protect myself’, they proclaim.
Some of the city’s residents say the message is slowly taking root. “More and more people are using them… it is not worth the risk,” said Kigali taxi driver Joseph Barigye.
This feature is used with permission from IRIN/PlusNews – www.plusnews.org