News Archive

posted 07/01/03

In Rwanda, HIV/AIDS Strategy Is Example for a Continent
Will funding shortage prevent others from following?

Members of the HIV/AIDS task force for the UN Millennium Project, visiting Rwanda last month, stand with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who backs a strong anti-AIDS strategy.

Josh Ruxin of Columbia University was pleased to see that the opening meeting of the HIV/AIDS task force in Kigali, Rwanda was attended by Rwanda's President, Prime Minister, head of the National AIDS Program, Minister of Health, and the government's entire cabinet. Rwanda is a country that is meeting its AIDS crisis head-on.

In Rwanda's best hospital, doctors report that 65% of all patients admitted are suffering from AIDS. Patients lay two and three to a bed, often with another lying under the bed on the floor. Yet over the past few years, the government of Rwanda, along with international donors including the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, have put together one of the best planned and best financed anti-AIDS strategies in Africa.

One of the growing number of Rwandan children

One of the growing number of Rwandan children orphaned when parents die of AIDS, this child now lives at an orphanage.

"Although the strategy is still in its early stages, there is hope that Rwanda can really turn its HIV/AIDS situation around," says Ruxin, co-coordinator of the HIV/AIDS task force for the Millennium Project, the United Nations initiative to cut world poverty in half by addressing its many causes (see for more details).

Ruxin and a team from the Columbia's Center for Global Health and Economic Development (CGHED), a joint venture of the Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health have been impressed by the government's commitment to fighting AIDS. Says Ruxin, "Rwanda is one of the hard hit countries in the world but it has the leadership, the political commitment, and the financial resources to reverse the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS."

The plan includes building over a hundred HIV/AIDS voluntary counseling and testing clinics, training doctors and nurses, and conducting comprehensive outreach programs for youth, sex workers, and other vulnerable populations.

At a visit to a health clinic in Rwanda, Millennium Project Task Force members observe first-hand the strengths and challenges of Rwanda's anti-AIDS program.

Unfortunately, other countries looking to follow Rwanda's model may not be able to do so unless the Global Fund is better financed by donor countries. As the third round of financing for the Global Fund approaches, the Fund is looking for donors to increase contributions, but so far it is coming up short. "The international community should applaud the impressive work being done in countries like Rwanda," says Ruxin, "and should realize that financing this work is critical to the economies of many African countries."

The Center for Global Health and Economic Development (CGHED) is collaboration between the Mailman School of Public Health and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Through partnerships with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and private donors, existing programs with demonstrated success will be ramped up to reach a broader base, and new programs will be developed to address critical global health issues. CGHED initiatives focus on issues ranging from AIDS to tuberculosis, maternal mortality, reproductive health, gender equity, sexuality, environmental contamination, forced migration, and human rights.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.