Kenya loses 6 youngsters to Aids daily, study says

World Aids Day

Kenyans take part in a procession to mark this year’s World Aids Day in Eldoret on Thursday.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Kenya loses about six people aged 15-24 to HIV/Aids-related illnesses daily, a new report shows.

The report released on World Aids Day revealed that deaths have been declining in the last five years though the numbers are still high.

The country lost 2,257 adolescents last year to HIV/Aids, an increase from 2,196 in 2020.

This declined from 2,621, 2,830 and 3,853 HIV/Aids-related deaths in 2019, 2018 and 2016 respectively.

However, infections in this particular cohort are rising. It is estimated that Kenya registered 34,504 new HIV/Aids infections last year.

A report by the National Syndemic Disease Control Council estimated that 52 per cent of new infections occurred among people aged 15-29.

Combined with children, the country lost about 4,098 souls below 19 to HIV/Aids-related illnesses.

The deaths were attributed to low diagnosis and treatment coverage for this population.

The study highlights that the uptake of HIV/Aids diagnostic services among 15 to 24-year-olds is low.

“Treatment outcomes for adolescents and young adults remain sub-optimal, with significant gaps in knowledge of HIV/Aids status and treatment uptake,” the study says.

The uptake has been decreasing in boys and men more than in girls and women.

The uptake for men and boys fell from 578,468 in 2020 to 456,306 in 2021 while the decrease in women and girls was 1.1 million to 946,664 in the same period.

The low treatment coverage for men and boys is evident by the number of HIV/Aids-related deaths compared to women and girls of the same age.

In 2021, an estimated 8,270 men aged 30 and above died of HIV/Aids-related illnesses compared to 6,902 women of the same age group.

Young adults fall in the bracket that is at the peak of sexual activity.

It is a life of hard choices – satisfying their sexual curiosity, feeding their sexual drive or suppressing their viral load.

Dr Momanyi Ogeto of the Centre for Health Solutions, Kenya, says the country must use a multisectoral approach to reduce the numbers.

“This is one of the most complicated cohorts. We need to understand them, talk to them, and come up with a multi-sector intervention from school-based, hospital, and population-specific and community-based to reduce new infections and HIV/Aids-related deaths. It is a journey we must start to win,” Dr Momanyi said.

He urged parents and healthcare workers to talk to adolescents and not shout at them.

“Let’s start having a different conversation with adults on sex and HIV/Aids education in schools before the onset of sexual activity. This will reduce stigma and delay first sex,” he says.

Health Cabinet Secretary Nakhumicha Wafula said the country faces the challenge of stemming new HIV infections among people aged 15-24.

“These infections are primarily driven by the layered challenge of adolescent pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence, now dubbed the triple threat,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

The minister added that child motherhood has long-lasting severe health consequences.

“The government is committed to realising universal health coverage,” Ms Wafula said.

National Syndemic Disease Control Council Chief Executive Officer Ruth Masha said local HIV/Aids gains are fragile as the country does not focus on children.

She urged Kenyans to stop condemning those giving HIV/Aids and sex education to the young.

Kenya has made significant progress towards ending HIV/Aids through a large-scale treatment programme.

The estimated HIV/Aids-related deaths in the last decade reduced by 58 per cent from 52,964 in 2010 to 19,486 in 2020.

Between 2000 and 2021, the number of HIV/Aids-related deaths increased by 15 per cent from about 19,486 to 22,373.

Half of these deaths occurred in Nairobi, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya, Migori, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kakamega, Kiambu and Kisii counties.