The Rwandan genocide began 20 years ago this month. More than 1 million people were killed in the course of 100 days. We asked four of our Rwandan colleagues to reflect on the genocide and discuss how their country has evolved in the past two decades. Below, Jean Claude Rutayisire, head of community health supervisors in Kayonza District, shares his experience. We ask you to stand in solidarity with Rwandans everywhere this month as they commemorate the past and continue to heal. Learn more about PIH/IMB’s work in Rwanda.
I have only horrifying and frightening memories of the 1994 genocide. I was 16 years old, and I was then a soldier with the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). I remember many women being raped and killed during this period, which spread HIV/AIDS and many other sexually transmitted diseases. There was no access to medications. Hospitals and health centers were destroyed and health providers were killed. People died from different diseases because they had no access to treatment, and many children were orphaned.
Many Rwandans were left homeless and traumatized. As a country and as individuals we had gone backwards. We had to start over from scratch. It wasn’t easy.
I am HIV-positive, and at the time I realized I was infected there was a lot of stigma faced by people living with HIV/AIDS. Many were afraid to come out and say they were infected. They wanted to believe it was witchcraft instead, and people refused to seek out proper medical care.
I was among the first patients treated by PIH and brought back to life.
Then, Partners In Health started working with the Ministry of Health in Rwanda. I was among the first patients treated by PIH and brought back to life. I was very impressed with the work they were doing, especially for people living with HIV/AIDS. Then I started to work with PIH; I was among the very first employees of PIH's Rwandan sister organization, Inshuti Mu Buzima (PIH/IMB). I accompanied other HIV-positive patients and worked very hard to raise awareness of the disease.
We at PIH/IMB work with different stakeholders to fight stigma, and many HIV-positive people no longer live in hiding. Individuals are on treatment, living positively. Most of the people who are HIV-positive in the three districts PIH works with the government have received treatment through PIH-supported health facilities, and they do very well. This is because they have access to medication and they have accompagnateurs who follow up with them daily. This makes it easy for people to adhere to their treatment and to live healthy lives.
Despite what we went through during the genocide, we have triumphed and overcome the sorrows of the past through good governance and great partnerships, like the one with PIH. Rwanda has many accomplishments to celebrate, from the community health insurance program to the expansion of HIV care. For me, it is a blessing to be part of this work.