Covid and HIV: Which virus is going to kill us?

AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. 

Photo credit: Miguel Riopa | AFP

What you need to know:

  • People living with HIV and Aids, mostly widows and girls in remote villages, wonder which of the two viruses will kill them.
  • Already, the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic left many unable to afford their HIV medication. 

When the government in March received 1.02 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, it prioritised essential service providers and people over 58, but left out Kenyans living with HIV and Aids. 

That about 25,000 people in the country die from Aids-related illnesses yearly is a good reason to prioritise this segment of the population in the vaccination drive. Even before Covid-19, people living with HIV and Aids were already fighting another pandemic.

The antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) they take are known to increase co-morbidities such as obesity, poorly controlled diabetes and high blood pressure, factors that increase their risk of contracting Covid-19.

People living with HIV and Aids, mostly widows and girls in remote villages, wonder which of the two viruses will kill them. Even more worrying is the national shortage of lifesaving ARVs. 

HIV medication

Since January, more than Sh1.1 billion worth of ARVs have been held at Mombasa port over a tax row between the government and USAid. The standoff is said to have since been resolved and Health ministry is likely to distribute the ARVs soon, but it highlighted the precariousness of the 1.6 million HIV-positive Kenyans.

As a widow who has worked for more than a decade with rural widows, most of them living with HIV and Aids, I’ve been a witness to the multiple burdens they bear. Already, the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic left many unable to afford their HIV medication. 

Some have resorted to borrowing drugs to survive. Others have had to exchange them for sex. 

In January, the government said it planned to “procure 11 million doses from other mechanisms to vaccinate nearly 16 million people.” This means that only 30 per cent of Kenyans will be vaccinated by June 2022. Will people living with HIV/Aids be part of this group?

Ms Orwa, widow champion and 2021 Aspen New Voices Fellow, is founder and director of the Rona Foundation. [email protected]

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