Is HIV/AIDS still a threat in Kenya three decades later?
The fear surrounding the emergence of HIV epidemic in the 1980s was huge and many would equate the HIV diagnosis to a death sentence. Stigma was rife and both the affected and infected persons were dreaded by society.
Dr. Aluoch Joseph, a specialist in Tuberculosis and HIV,was diagnosed with the disease in the late 80’s says his first contact with HIV was in May 1985.
‘’I was working at the infectious disease ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital when this young Ugandan Journalist was admitted in my ward ,in what was described as a slim disease those days, as you know most people who were diagnosed with disease lost weight and were very slim” said Aluoch
Dr. Aluoch said it was difficult to detect if one was infected with the HIV Virus because there were no equipment in the country to diagnose the disease and blood samples had to be shipped abroad to the US for prognosis.
“The problem was that we did not have machines to conduct the test here in Kenya, there was one white man called doctor Bulls Johnson who took the blood samples to the center for disease control Atlanta Georgia in America. It took two weeks for the results to come back”. recalled Aluoch
At that time, very little was known about how HIV is transmitted, and people were scared of those who were infected due to fear of contamination.
According to doctor Aluoch, the prescription then did not help much as doctors guessed and goofed on remedies adding that majority of the patient’s bodies rejected the medication and eventually died.
“The medication we used to administer on T.B patients reacted negatively with the patients and many died.” said Aluoch
In 1988, scientist discovered another drug that would later help manage HIV, but even this did not help and they had to work even harder. But after four years of struggle, there was a breakthrough and 1996 is a year to remember in HIV therapy in the country as scientists discovered ARV medication that prolonged the lives of the patients and managed the virus.
“They discovered the highly Active anti-retro viral therapy -HART. It was launched in 1996 and was used throughout the world and it really helped prolong the lives of patients.” said Aluoch
Aluoch is thankful for ARVs saying that people living with the virus can now live longer unlike in the past years.
There have been great strides made in the fight against HIV management, with the scientific innovations being the most important weapons in the ongoing battles but despite this stigma is still rife.
Dr Aluoch says stigma exist even between the learned Kenyans and even medics who have information on HIV and AIDS.
“Even between us doctors, there is stigma, and many at times when one is positive he or she will keep it a secret, because one is isolated by colleagues in the medical profession once they discover that he or she is HIV positive”.
National Aids Control Council -NASCOP deputy director Martin Sirengo however indicates that treatment and prevention of HIV are twin endeavors that entail a society that does not stigmatize the sick.
“If HIV positive patients came out in the open and are not stigmatized , this will help a lot in managing this disease , new infections will be fewer , sensitization and education on the same will be widely shared both by the affected and infected” said Sirengo
But despite the challenges the world has made strides in the war against HIV. This year the government rolled a new drug meant to protect HIV negative people from contracting the virus.
The drug known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP) is administered to those at high risk of contracting the virus.
But Kenya is still grappling with increased cases of new HIV infections among the youth, with more than 100,000 such cases reported annually.
The National Aids Control Council director Nduku Kilonzo revealed that the youth are the most affected, due to the alarming rate at which young people are engaging in risky sexual behavior.
“46 % of the new HIV infections are in the age group of between 15 and 24, half of the young people have knowledge in HIV infection another half is not.what is means is for is unless we invest in the education sector in providing knowledge, in being a catalyst for HIV response we might not be able to get where we need to go” said Nduku
Kenya has the third largest HIV epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 1.6 million People Living with the virus.
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