SPECIAL REPORT BY XINHUA CORRESPONDENT BEDAH MENGO
Kenya is among countries in the developing world that is changing tact in its fight against HIV/AIDS
NAIROBI (Xinhua) — As the fight against HIV/AIDS intensifies, countries are adopting various strategies either to build on their successes or boost areas where they have made slow progress in the past decades.
These strategies, in particularly, are to help them scale up the uptake of anti-retroviral drugs and reverse HIV infection rates as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline approaches.
The MDG six, which focuses on HIV, among other communicable diseases, outlines that countries should have began to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 and halt new infections.
This, in particular, is among their populations aged between 15 and 24, who are at the highest risk. According to the goal, people in this age group should also have comprehensive knowledge on HIV/ AIDS.
The goal further targets that a sizeable population of those with advanced HIV infection should have universal access to treatment and anti-retroviral drugs.
Kenya is among countries in the developing world that is changing tact in its fight against HIV/AIDS.
The East African nation is adopting new methods of combating the disease to reduce its spread and bring down prevalence rates, which now stand at 7 percent, according to National Aids and STIs Control Program (Nascop).
Nascop further estimates that 100,000 people are infected with HIV in Kenya every year. To turn round the state of affairs, Kenya is making HIV testing routine.
The program, which the country is piloting at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and others across the country, targets all patients visiting public medical facilities and in future, it will spread to private hospitals.
Thus, soon, every Kenyan visiting a hospital in any part of the country will take a HIV test.
This does not matter whether one has visited a medical facility for treatment or he has taken a patient.
Peter Cherutich, the Deputy Director and Head of HIV Prevention at Nascop, the organization that is spearheading the system, says routine HIV testing will ensure that majority of Kenyans know their HIV status to effectively fight the disease.
He further points out that the method of testing will make AIDS lose its “special status” in the country’s health system. “This will help to integrate HIV care and public health care. HIV will cease to be a ‘special disease’ thus help in eliminating stigma and encourage more people to test,” he says.
In Kenya, traditionally, government hospitals have a special unit for HIV/AIDS patients.
This system, experts believe has helped to slow the fight against HIV in Kenya since people fear visiting the centers for treatment or testing for fear of stigmatization.
“Making testing an everyday issue is the best way we can ensure that a great proportion of the population know their HIV status to effectively fight the disease,” he notes.
Nascop estimates that about 40 percent of Kenyans have never undergone a HIV test.
“These untested people are hampering the government’s efforts to control the spread of HIV and prevent new HIV infections,” he says.
Cherutich notes that HIV is a different kind of disease because one can stay with it for a long time and risk spreading before it is detected.
“You can stay with it even for over 10 years before you realize that you are sick or contract any opportunistic infections. Chances are that you would have spread it to others,” he says.
Thus, only routine testing can eradicate cases of people who are HIV positive, but do not know their status, infecting others.
George Osore, a resident of Nairobi, says he likes the new program.
Osore, a recent beneficiary of the system at Kenyatta National Hospital, says it reduces stigma because one sits easily with other patients as they wait to see the doctor.
“You are not discriminated upon. Like other patients, no one knows whether you are going for a HIV test or malaria treatment,” he observes.
He further notes that the method is the best because it not only targets any person who is sick but also those who accompany them to health facilities.
Osore recounts how he was tested with his wife. “It was in July this year. I had taken my son to Kenyatta National Hospital because he was coughing persistently. As I was sitting at a bench with my wife waiting for the doctors to do their work, a nurse approached me,” he says.
He narrates that she asked him and his wife to follow her. “We entered a room written ‘private’ and while there, the nurse asked us if we had taken a HIV test and told us the benefits of testing. The two got courage and got tested,” he says.
Osore confesses that prior to the testing, he had avoided visiting Voluntary and Counselling and Testing (VCT) centers many times. “I feared going for a HIV test because I was not prepared for the outcome. I also believed that I was HIV negative because my wife was negative. But the nurse at the hospital helped me gain courage to test,” he says.
Cherutich notes that routine HIV testing in Kenya will further eliminate cases of testing by proxy, especially for men, who believe when their wives are HIV negative, they are also negative.