Interruption of HIV treatment has been cited as a major impediment in the fight against new infections amid concern over continued stigma.
Speaking in Meru County ahead of this year’s World AIDS Day celebrations, set for tomorrow, National Syndemic Disease Control Council CEO Dr Ruth Masha said the country recorded significant numbers last year with at least one in every ten among those living with the virus interrupting treatment.
She said interruption of HIV treatment can lead to a viral rebound after previous viral suppression which contributes to reduced immunity and may impact health in other ways.
“One of the things that is making them stop is HIV stigma and discrimination. And as long as we continue having people stigmatised, then they end up having mental health issues and then interrupt treatment.” Observed Masha.
She cited drugs and substance abuse especially among young people as compounding and contributing to interruption in HIV treatment.
“Interruption of medication means that the virus rebounds and sets pace for opportunistic infections including TB, meningitis and pneumonia for accelerated ill health that leads to high levels of deaths among those who have interrupted treatment.” She noted.
She said delayed diagnosis resulting from associated stigma could result in changes in the body could be irreversible.
“Although we have treatment, stigma and discrimination continues to stand in the way and there is no way the country will treat this disease as a health issue without bringing communities in an effort to break down structural issues, gender based violence and sexual offenses against children.” She said.
The concern coming amid grim statistics on the challenge of appointment and interruption of treatment with data collected last year indicating that of the 1,294,339-people living with HIV on ART in Kenya, 10.4% (134,611) interrupted their treatment.
Similar proportions of men (68%) and women (70%) living with HIV who were on ART kept their appointments, 11% of men and 10% of women on ART experienced treatment interruptions, and 38% of men and 37% of women returned to care.
The data shows that of the clients who interrupted their treatment, 8,182 representing 6 % died while 31,064 representing 23% were still lost to follow-up at the end of the year.
About 1.3 million of the 1.4 million people living with HIV in the country receive antiretroviral therapy from more than 3,000 health facilities including over 48,000 children and 55,000 breastfeeding mothers, a development that has seen the country record significant strides in the fight against the virus over the last decade.
“We have doubled the number of those on treatment from 2013 reducing the number of new infections from 100,000 in 2013 to about 22,000 last year. Mother to child transmission rates have also gone down.” She said.
Kenya is the 7th ranked country in the number of people living with HIV across the globe recording the sixth largest proportion of people who died from AIDS related deaths in the world last year.
Globally, 9.2 million people do not have access to HIV treatment that they need with 1700 lives lost from HIV-related causes each day and 3500 people infected, with many not knowing their status or having access to treatment.