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Cultural and economic barriers set back Kenya’s Aids eradication goal

Taking a HIV test
Taking a HIV test. FILE PHOTO | NMG 
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As the world celebrated the World Aids Day on Sunday, newly released data indicate that young women accounted for the bulk of new HIV infections in the country, highlighting the extent to which cultural, social, economic and biological factors have made the female gender prone to the scourge.

The World Aids report 2019 by UNAids released ahead of the World Aids Day indicate that new HIV infections among young women aged 15 to 24 years were more than double those among young men the same age. The report is an update of a similar one released earlier.

“There were 11,000 new infections among young women, compared to 5,000 among young men,” the report reads.

It discloses that only 59 percent of women and men aged between 15 to 24 years correctly identified ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said that the structural, economic and cultural barriers in accessing healthcare have taken Kenya steps back in its Aids free society goal.

She, however, added that Kenya could still reach the 90-90-90 ambitious treatment.

The 90—90—90 target envisions that, by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads.

Ms Angeline Siparo, the National Aids Control Council (NACC) board chairperson, said that HIV disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls because of vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural, social and economic status.

“The important thing to note is that women have different biological system than men and therefore more susceptible to acquire the disease than men, the culture and economic status also makes them a vulnerable group compared to their male counterparts,” said Ms Siparo.

Poorer populations are more susceptible because they are desperate which then makes them open to accepting situations that they otherwise would not.

She said women who are jobless or those who rely on men tend to compromise and stay in relationships that are harmful to their health. “Some women acquire the disease from spouses who cheat on them and because they have no option they stay.”

The UNAids report shows that in 2018, 89 percent of Kenyans living with HIV knew their status and 68 percent of people living with HIV were on treatment.

“The results we are witnessing affirm that the HIV epidemic in Kenya is stabilising even as we move closer to attainment of our 90-90-90 targets. Our collective efforts complimented by sound investments not only in the HIV response but in the health sector have been instrumental in these achievements,” said Ms Kariuki.

The UNAids report further revealed that women are disproportionally affected by HIV in Kenya not just in that age group. Of the 1.4 million adults living with HIV, 910 000 (65 percent) were women.

HIV treatment was higher among women than men, with 75 percent of adult women living with HIV on treatment, compared to 59 percent of adult men.

The report, which also collates data among children and adults, shows that of all adults aged 15 years and above living with HIV, 69 percent were on treatment, while 61 percent of children aged zero to 14 years infected with the virus were on treatment.

Currently there are 1.6 million Kenyans living with HIV with a total 46,000 new infections. A total of 25, 000 people died from an Aids-related illness, the report shows.

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