The government has roped in local administrators, Members of Parliament and other interest groups in fighting triple threats facing adolescents and teenagers, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has said.
Speaking when he received the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Winnie Byanyima at the Harambee House Annex, Monday, Gachagua said new HIV infections among teenagers, adolescents and young adults, is a threat to the nation’s future.
The “triple threats” are HIV infections, adolescent pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence among adolescents and teenagers.
“We have been doing our best in this matter in ensuring our girls are in school. We are particularly encouraging boarding schools in pastoralists areas where female genital mutilation is rampant. We are working with the chiefs and other national administration officers to end FGM and early marriages and have our girls in school,” the Deputy President said.
According to the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (former National AIDS Control Council) report of 2022, at least 52 per cent of the 29,380 new infections were among adolescents and young adults aged 15-29. A majority of these cases are girls and young women. FGM, SGBV and teenage pregnancies have been singled out as threats predisposing girls in Kenya and globally to HIV/AIDS.
Gachagua attributed the high number of infections in 2021 to COVID-19 pandemic. Due to closure of schools, he said, the children were at home, making them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, FGM and forced marriage - which have been linked to the rise of infections.
“Primary education is free in Kenya. We have a challenge in slum areas but we will ensure all children are in school. The Executive has supported the NG-CDF (National Government Constituencies Development Fund kitty) so have as many schools as possible. President William Ruto and I will make it a priority in championing girl education. We will make it a priority because of the new infections,” he said.
The Deputy President expressed commitment to championing the common approach to eliminating these challenges. He said President Ruto’s vision is to remove all barriers impeding access to education and economic empowerment through an integrated government approach.
While congratulating Kenya for the general reduction in new infections except among teenagers and adolescents, the UNAIDS Executive Director called on the government to bring all the 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS under antiretroviral therapy (ART). Currently, 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS are under ARTs while 200,000 others- mostly children are not.
Against the backdrop of reducing global funding to countries in various programmes, the Deputy President asked Dr Byanyima to consider Kenya a priority in accessing more resources to curb the rising cases among adolescent, teenagers and mother to child transmission.
Dr Byanyima said the most cost-effective and sustainable way is to establish local pharmaceuticals to produce medical products.
“We need to manufacture the drugs here (locally). We will work with you on that,” she said.
Gachagua said the government, under the Ministry of Trade, Investment and Industry, is ready to receive new investors in the pharmaceuticals in addition to ongoing engagements with international companies like Mordana. This is one of the ways, that the Kenya Kwanza Administration has prioritized on to make healthcare affordable, creating more jobs and improving the economy through tax.
Although new HIV infections remain high, they have significantly reduced over the years. In 2013, Kenya recorded about 278 people newly infected with HIV. This number has declined to approximately 95 cases per day. The annual cases of mother-to-child transmission have dropped in half from about 12,940 to 5,160 cases between 2013 and 2022.
The delegation included UNAIDS Resident Coordinator Stephen Jackson, Ministry of Health State Department for Medical Services Principal Secretary Peter Tum, Ag Director General for Health Dr Patrick Amoth, among others.