Home OPINIONS Kenya needs to streamline HIV/AIDS care to end the epidemic by 2030

Kenya needs to streamline HIV/AIDS care to end the epidemic by 2030

Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery, EA Assistant Professor Dr. Maureen Akolo, Dean Prof. Eunice Ndirangu & U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-PEPFAR Coordinator KE Brian Rettmann during the launch of the History of HIV and AIDS in Kenya: Evolution and Contemporary Issues book that provides an in-depth perspective into the over four decades history of HIV & AIDS in Kenya.

Kenya needs to streamline efforts to contain the HIV epidemic, especially at the county level through policymakers, educationalists, medical practitioners, and local and international governments to achieve the global target to end the epidemic by 2030.

Kenya is among the top four countries with a high population of people living with HIV in Africa with a prevalence of 4.9 per cent. Experts from the Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa, and the USAID Kenya have launched a new book titled “History of HIV and AIDS in Kenya; Evolution & Contemporary Issues” which provides a comprehensive overview of the journey of HIV/AIDS in Kenya spanning over four decades.

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The HIV/AIDS sector in Kenya remains heavily donor-funded at 71 percent as of 2021/2022 with PEPFAR being the largest donor to HIV programs, contributing 49 percent of annual total investments across all HIV programs. The majority of funding for antiretrovirals (ARVs) is also done by donors.

“It is interesting to see the history of the disease and the response captured all in one place. As I was reading the book, I was reminded of how far we have come and how much the response has continued to evolve. I have worked in the HIV space for more than 20 years and it is amazing to see how far we have come,” said U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-PEPFAR Coordinator Kenya Brian Rettmann.

Kenya is at the cusp of attaining HIV epidemic control with its HIV testing program evolving drastically from 84 percent of HIV-infected adults not knowing their status during the first AIDS indicator survey in 2007 to 20.5 percent in the national 2018 population-based HIV impact assessment.

“The prevalence of HIV in Nairobi County has evolved over the years from 5.4 percent in 1990 to a high of 8.8 percent in 1997 to 1998 and to the current statistic at 3.2 percent. In the programme, Nairobi currently serves 177,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS and contributes to 11 percent of the country’s HIV burden. However, we have achieved a 25 percent reduction in the stigma around the disease and currently have 238 facilities offering HIV/AIDS care in Nairobi 125 of them being public facilities,” said Nairobi County HIV/AIDS, STI, and Viral Hepatitis Programme Coordinator Anthony Kiplagat.

Religious organizations were noted to have been pivotal to the evolution of the HIV epidemic in the country. They have embraced approaches to reduce the spread like providing education and awareness programs, addressing stigma, and supporting HIV testing and counseling. This is a departure from the onset of the virus where they appeared rigid with their values fuelling the spread of HIV.

The book notes that myths and misconceptions common in many cultures were that HIV can spread by casual contact, shaking hands, sharing utensils or clothing, or using public restrooms. It was also believed that the virus only affects certain groups of people, can be cured, and is a death sentence. While there is currently no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to help manage the virus and development of AIDS.

“As the world approaches the deadline set for the end of AIDS by 2030, the narrative around HIV/AIDS has evolved from one of fear and despair to hope and courage. In the heart of Africa, Kenya stands as a significant battleground in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery Assistant Professor and Lead Author Dr. Maureen Akolo.

Congratulating the authors, Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery Dean Prof. Eunice Ndirangu, emphasized the importance of research to drive innovation, inform practice, and influence policy.

“This book highlights our commitment to evidence-based practice as well as the pivotal role nurses play in shaping healthcare outcomes. With an increasing research output, the School of Nursing and Midwifery continues to impact policy, further solidifying our position as frontrunners in the field,” she said.

The book delves into the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when little was known about the disease, exploring theories around HIV acquisition both globally and locally in Kenya. It examines the approaches for HIV control in the absence of highly active antiretroviral therapy and chronicles the in-country response to HIV by different stakeholders expounding the need for Kenya to own and control its narrative on HIV/AIDS care.

The authors, Dr. Maureen Akolo, Dr. Wesley Too, Dr. Abednego Ongeso, Dr. Horatius Musembi from the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa and Dr. Dunstan Achwoka from USAID Kenya, believe that the book will provide key insights from frontline workers that will inform the latter stages in the fight to eradicate the epidemic.

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