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Saturday, April 20, 2013

HIV & AIDS in the Kenyan Context

Before I started working at the Aids Law Project-Kenya; a non-governmental organization which works exclusively to promote equal rights and justice for people living with HIV and AIDS; I thought I knew all there was to HIV & AIDS. Like many people, I rightfully knew that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV )can lead to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome(AIDS).I knew the common modes of transmission of the virus and of course the familiar methods of prevention of the same. I also had a vague idea on what ARVs are but did not know for certain the combinations or even the most common drug names. Neither did I have a precise knowledge of the talk of CD4 counts nor option B+ or even viral loads….

The Aids Law Project (ALP) focuses on using legal strategies to advance health rights for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.As such, I had to bring myself to speed with the facts, figures and terminology used around issues to do with the pandemic and more so in the Kenyan milieu.

Kenyan’s HIV epidemic has been categorized as being generalized-this means that the disease affects all sectors of the population. It is of paramount importance to note that the HIV prevalence rate tends to differ according to location, gender and age. In a nationwide survey conducted in 2003, a quarter of women aged between 12 and 24 had lost their virginity through force. These statistics translate to the prevalence of HIV among women being twice as high as that of men at 8% and 4.3% respectively. This means that young women in Kenya aged between 15-24 are four times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of the same age. Adult HIV prevalence in urban to rural areas is at 8.4% to 6.7% respectively. However 75% of the Kenyan population lives in rural areas; therefore the number of people living with HIV is higher in rural settings at approximately 1 million adults as compared to 0.4 million adults in the urban settings.

Experts are confident and hopeful that HIV in Kenya can be a generation disease by the turn of the next decade. This means that new infection rates will decrease significantly. This looks very possible if we adopt the treatment for prevention strategy quickly countrywide. The aims of the approach is to get all patients with CD4 count below 500 on treatment immediately.ARVs will also be issued to all discordant couples, pregnant HIV mothers and most at risk populations regardless of their CD4 count. Costs, funding and sustainability of the projects are the most pressing challenges to getting this very realistic goal done but we must not lose sight nor hope especially in regards to recent precedent set by the Indian Supreme Court and the Patricia Asero case (Kenya )which address issues to do with access to medicine, patent and Intellectual property issues, compulsory licensing and generic medication. There is also a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with the current pre-license qualification that has been issued to Universal Corporation a local company that may soon be making ARVs for the local and regional demand.



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