Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

INACOS – combating HIV/AIDS in Rwanda

(INitiative des Amis COmbattant la SIDA) is the Friends Church HIV and AIDS programme in Rwanda. Quakers Fidele Nsengiyumva and his wife Antoinette Runiga, both HIV positive themselves, founded it in 2002. She died in 2004, but he continues the work they began together.

INACOS tries to be a community change agent by:
  1. Preventing new infection
  2. Reducing the impact on PLWHAs (People Living With HIV and AIDS), or affected by it.

Experience in Rwanda has shown them that effective action involves working to reduce the six  ‘SSDDIM’ factors, namely
  1. Silence (by getting people to talk openly
  2. Stigma (by reducing the prejudice against PLWHAs and their families
  3. Denial (by helping people acknowledge their status)
  4. Discrimination  (by giving equal rights to employment, treatment and prevention for PLWHAs, their children and other family members: a ‘rights-based approach’)
  5. Inaction (by doing something, rather than being passive)
  6. Mis-action (by not doing inappropriate things)

Many other churches in Rwanda have perceived the SSDDIM factors too, and so have welcomed INACOS, and supported and joined in its work. INACOS has never sought to do everything themselves, but to strengthen local initiatives all over Rwanda, by showing what can be done and developing some methods that really help.

INACOS has targeted three groups in particular:
– Vulnerable people living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS, especially children;
– Vulnerable families exposed to HIV infection, e.g. orphans and widows;
– Men and religious leaders living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS.

Key activities have been sensitisation/awareness-raising, workshops, counselling, care and support, and the development of income-generating activities.

Sensitisation/awareness-raising: thousands of people have learned basic information about HIV and AIDS, about desirable behaviour change, and that it is possible to live positively with HIV. Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) is freely available in Rwanda, and INACOS works to encourage people to take advantage of this, through encouraging community leaders (political, religious, women, youth) to form community support groups.  As a result many people have undergone voluntary tests to learn their status.

Workshops: facilitators have been trained to sensitise their communities and establish community support groups. 80 religious leaders participated in a workshop about living positively with HIV and AIDS. As a result many of them disclosed their own HIV+ status. This enabled them to restore hope for many affected by HIV and AIDS in their congregations, by showing that they could still play an important role in the community, as PLWHAs.

Counselling: individuals and groups receive counselling before and after status testing. Testimonies by PLWHAs are extensively used in this, because they demonstrate that a productive life can continue.

Care and support of people and families living with HIV and AIDS: children have been helped with nutrition, with school education, with medication and advice. INACOS also encourages ‘gender balance’, by educating both parents to talk openly about reproductive health with youth and children. Community support groups help with home-based care for those who are sick, and help affected families to support each other. Some have built clean water wells for the whole community. INACOS funds the community support groups and assists them in generating further income for their work. The Rwandan Government has a policy of replacing houses made with straw, with ones built of more durable materials. INACOS supports this policy, but is aware of many PLWHAs who are in difficulties with this, and is trying to help them.

Income generation: many PLWHAs could earn money with some help. INACOS has helped with farming and catering initiatives, and now has a basket-making cooperative.

Many challenges remain. Some religious leaders are very reluctant to talk about these issues when preaching and teaching. INACOS aims to encourage them to be much more forceful in advocating prevention, testing, and a ‘rights-based’ approach to PLWHAs .  Not enough men are involved in this work of SSDDIM reduction: this problem is not confined to religious leaders. Men could be especially helpful in communicating the need for behaviour change to youth. Sometimes there are HIV and AIDS related conflicts in communities, so healing and AVP processes are needed.

INACOS plans to continue its work and address some of the challenges. They are also currently helping Burundi Friends to develop a similar strategy.
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Further Reading and Credits

FWCC HIV and AIDS Consultation report pdf

The picture (top left) shows men building a well as part of the INACOS initiative