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Rwandans and Condoms? A love and hate relationship?

It was a weekend, I was out with some friends, and as I was waiting for my order in a queue, I ended up chatting with the guy making my order. Boys being boys, we started talking about girls and this man shooketh me as he said, “I do not use condoms. They do not look good on me. You know what they say, it is like eating a sweet in its wrapping paper—no sweetness.”

I was about to leave, I jokingly told him “Remember, if you can’t protect your rocket, leave it in your pocket.” to which he smiled and called me ‘Rubberman.’

I immediately told a close friend of mine who then told me “We survived COVID-19, what could raw sex do to us?”

This sparked questions and curiosity in me. As a young man who stepped into Rwanda for the first time in 2022, I wondered why young people aren’t using condoms. In my country, it is like a culture. I went to pharmacies, lodges, and clinics. I had a mission and I need to get my answers. This is where it gets interesting.

First, let’s look at the Data

According to the 2019-20 Demographic Survey (DHS), data shows that HIV prevalence among individuals aged 15-49 is the highest in the City of Kigali, (maybe because “In Kigali we Share?”) and some districts of Eastern Province (Rwamagana, Bugesera, Kayonza, and Gatsibo)

The study also showed that there is a large proportion of people who don’t know their HIV status and are not on treatment.

There is low knowledge about HIV prevention and testing tendency among youth especially. The 2019-20 DHS reported that comprehensive knowledge of HIV among young people is estimated at 59% of young women and 57% of young men aged 15-24.

Data also shows that 35% of new infections come from Adolescents. (RPHIA 2018-19)

Condoms, Morning-After Pills, and rapid HIV tests

A chat with some pharmacists revealed that most young people who walk into that pharmacy will be purchasing the morning-after pills, pregnant tests, or rapid HIV tests.

With a sad face, the lady said, “The youth are more afraid of getting pregnant than HIV and STIs.”

This notion was in line with a pharmacy located in Gisozi whose pharmacist said, “I’ve been here for a year and I’ve never seen a guy buying morning afters but the girls buy them like sweets.”

I made my way to Kabuga Ka Nyarutarama for a visit to another pharmacy which brought about similar sentiments.

“More girls visit the pharmacy, linger around till there are fewer people, and ask for morning-after pills,” said a pharmacist from a pharmacist in Kagugu. “Boys buy condoms but fewer condoms are bought here, with the pregnancy test being on the lowest,” he added.

The Clinics

In most clinics, doctors could not release actual data as this is sensitive and private information. However, those who would agree to have a chat with me shared the same sentiments that youth are not using condoms or as we like to call them rubbers.

One doctor from a clinic in the Remera area said that treating STIs after weekends, public holidays, or just after month’s end is a normality.

Commercial sex workers

Knowing youth being youth, I reached out to some commercial sex workers that I managed to convince to speak openly. One of them hashtagged it ‘Thigh Vending”. The group said they engage with their audience on Snapchat and they charge 100,000 Frw per night.

During this chat, one of the ladies said that some young men ask to engage in coitus without a condom. When the ladies say no, the young men are willing to pay double or even 50,000 Frw more.

From the conversations I have had with, Pharmacists, Doctors, Sex workers, and young people themselves, it is evident that there is a need for comprehensive sexual education and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and STIs among young people.

Let’s be real

Director of HIV Prevention Unit at RBC, Dr Ikuzo Basile, says that among the most common causes of HIV among young people are engaging in sexual activity at a young age and drug use.

He said, “The most obvious reason why young people are infected with HIV is the lack of knowledge that is prevelant these days, and the fact that young people engage in sexual activity at a young age increases the risk of infection.
It is evident that young people are involved in sexual activity. Let’s be real that is not going to change anytime soon (my own opinion) but what can be done is to do things cautiously and to be well informed about the decisions we take.

Dr Ikuzo Basile says young people should imperatively use protection because it not only protects against HIV but also other STDs.

He also emphasized that certain myths about using condoms should not be taken as the truth.

He said, “ If used appropriately condoms can protect you. It does not make sex less enjoyable as some young people believe. That is an excuse some might use.”

Straight out of Twitter