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Stakeholders gather in Mombasa for HIV conference amid concerns

Dr. Ruth Laibon CEO of the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) center flanked by Dorothy Onyango on left and Prof Ruth Nduati Epidemiologist and Pediatrician during a media briefing in Mombasa .

Experts have raised alarm over the emerging surge of HIV/AIDs cases in counties that traditionally had few cases.

Stakeholders are converging in Mombasa for a three-day conference starting Tuesday, August 29, dubbed Maisha conference to review lessons from HIV/AIDS responses.

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Dr. Ruth Laibon, CEO of the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) in a pre-conference media briefing revealed the challenge of emerging pockets of epidemics in counties that did not traditionally have HIV Progress like Homabay.

Dr. Laibon said they have observed a spike in cases in counties like Samburu, Mandera, and Garissa.

“While the cases are few we are concerned that if nothing happens those few cases if they remain unchecked and people don’t access treatment then it would be a challenge,” she said.

Dr. Laibon said Men and boys’ adherence rates to Anti-retroviral drugs are quite low compared to women and girls though HIV is more prevalent in women and girls.

“We lose more men and boys to HIV because they don’t come to the hospital early. We only get them in the TB clinic and sometimes when they are sick or they have been sent to hospitals because of pneumonia and other diseases,” she explained.

NSDCC is advocating for early diagnosis of men and boys to prevent HIV-related deaths.

“It’s a fact itself HIV is beginning to manifest as an epidemic that is majorly for young adults and adolescents. The age of 10 to the age of 35 is where our challenge lies especially as far as the transmission and drug use is concerned,” said Dr., Ruth

Parents and caregivers were urged to have sex education with their children to give them all available options “so that when they are making an emotional decision they are cognizant of the lifelong impact they carry out of sexual activity.”

Although the country has made progress in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV Dr. Laibon noted in 2022 almost 4000 children acquired HIV from their mothers yet the science and medication are available.

She calls for cooperation between HIV/AIDs expectant mothers, doctors, and the community to them from suffering from stigma and discrimination that stop them from accessing medication.

Men and women expecting to have a baby were urged to get a diagnosis first for HIV and syphilis to prevent a high level of consequences to the unborn child.

Adolescents’ mothers since they have not developed to the level of making appropriate decisions for themselves are also vulnerable to HIV.

“If they don’t get HIV at the time of sexual exposure they then become vulnerable they then engage in transactional sex because the challenges they are living in have increased,” said Dr. Laibon.

Drug users who inject drugs at the Coast are at a high risk of HIV and hepatitis.

“Currently we have about 8800 clients who we give a drug every morning to ensure that they stop injecting heroin. Here at the coast that is the biggest challenge,” said Dr. Laibon adding that the Coast contributes a high number of people who inject drugs.

Dr. Laibon noted that the triple threat campaign is trying to seek commitment from all the stakeholders to end the cycle of poverty, the likelihood of reinforcing the challenges that girls face, and also creating another vulnerability to HIV.

Dorothy  Onyango diagnosed in 1990  with HIV said the country has made strides in the fight against  HIV. Through her organization Women Fighting HIV in Kenya she is creating awareness in the communities

“There is a lot of stigma in the communities one of our main objectives was to see how we destigmatize HIV. We were trying to give HIV a human face,” she said.

On her part, Prof. Ruth Nduati, Epidemiologist and Pediatrician gave a historical purview on how it was difficult to access Anti-Retroviral Viral (ARVs) drugs when HIV emerged.

“You waited to get sick so that you can get the ARV now for the women who had advanced HIV there was a fourteen-fold increased risk of dying,” she recalled.

Haniel Mengistu
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