Kenya winning war on HIV/Aids as infections dip

Friday, February 21st, 2020 07:17 |
Health CAS Rashid Aman (second right) with US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter, National AIDS and STI Control Programme head Catherine Ngugi, UNAID country director Medhin Tsehaiu (left) at the launch of the Kenphia report at the Ministry of Health headquarters, yesterday. PD/SAMUEL KARIUKI

Kenya has made notable strides in the fight against the HIV/Aids with the number of new infections reducing to less than 36,000 last year from 106,000 in 2012.

The success has been spurred by intensified public sensitisation, general behavioural change and anti-retroviral drugs use and above all,  testing which has enabled many to know their HIV status.

According to the Kenya Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (Kenphia) report released yesterday,  96 per cent of people know their HIV/Aids status while 90.6 per cent adults living with the disease had achieved viral load suppression (VLS), meaning they have low levels of the virus in the blood.

The survey was conducted between June 2018 and February 2019.

In a speech read on her behalf by the Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Rashid Aman,  outgoing Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the report would define the next phase of the country’s response to HIV/Aids.

Disseminate findings widely

“We are committed, as a government, to continue the path towards HIV epidemic control as a means of achieving Universal Health Coverage,” she said and called on the ministry to disseminate the findings widely.

Even with the gains, the report showed that HIV/Aids prevalence among women is still high. The survey, found that the prevalence was twice as high among women, at 6.6 per cent compared to men, at 3.1 per cent.  

While releasing the  survey results, stakeholders noted, “the high prevalence rate among women was not only unique to Kenya”. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers are worrying partly because of the fact that women have high risk of infection compared to men, and the underlying cultural issues that come with how men access healthcare services.

This, according to Kariuki, means that women are still the most affected by the virus since it was first detected in the country 36 years ago.

The prevalence of viral load suppression-which measures the number of copies of the virus in the blood-among people living with HIV aged 0-64 was generally higher among girls and women compared to boys and men across all the age groups.

Men lag behind 

Most importantly, men were found to be lagging behind when it comes to viral suppression, fuelled by reluctance to test for HIV/Aids. Among adults, women had a VLS of 74.6 per cent while men had 65.1 per cent.

It also found out that the prevalence, which is the proportion of individuals in a population who are living with HIV-among adults 15-64 years, was 4.9 per cent which translates to approximately 1.3 million adults living with the virus in the country.

Dr Jessica Justman, an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in Epidemiology from ICAP, said there is need to target men with access to testing services.

“Most of the time it is the women who go for testing. This high prevalence rate is not isolated to Kenya. We have realised it reflects both biological and cultural patterns,” he said.

Kenya appears closer to meeting the UNAids 90:90:90 target. This target aims to ensure 90 per cent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of those diagnosed are on treatment, and 90 per cent of people living with HIV on treatment achieve viral load suppression.

“Kenya is close to achieving the 90-90-90 targets: 80 per cent of adults living with HIV in Kenya (15-64 years) are aware of their diagnosis; 96 per cent of those aware of their diagnosis are on antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 91 per cent of those on treatment have achieved viral load suppression,” the CS added, saying these numbers demonstrate that Kenya has met the second and third ‘90-90-90’ goal.

She said the results are encouraging as they reflect the number of people living with HIV live longer, while new infections per year have reduced since 2012.

Kariuki, however, noted the epidemic was a still a huge risk in attaining the country’s universal health care. She said government would continue to focus on HIV prevention programmes across the country to cut the numbers even further.

At the county level, the HIV prevalence rate was still high at the Western belt counties of Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya, Migori and Busia. Among the adults aged between 15-64, Homa Bay had 19.6 per cent HIV prevalence rate, followed closely by Kisumu at 17.5 per cent. Siaya had 15.3 per cent, Migori 13 per cent while Busia 9.9 per cent prevalence rates, respectively.

The HIV/ Aids prevalence was lowest  (<2.0 per cent ) in nine counties; Samburu, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Kiambu, West Pokot, and Baringo.

Further, the Kenphia 2018 survey showed that approximately 1.3 million adults in Kenya are living with HIV, representing a 4.9 per cent of all adults aged 15-64 years.“Among children -aged 0-14- there are approximately 139,000 children living with HIV in Kenya,” the survey revealed. 

US Ambassador to Kenya, Kyle McCarter said the results shows that the partnership between Kenya and his government is bearing fruit in the ongoing interventions to bring under control the Aids pandemic in the country.  

The US Centre for Disease Control Kenya Country director, Dr Marc Bulterys said the survey shows that 72 per cent of all adults living with HIV in Kenya have suppressed HIV viral load, which is promising.

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