Today we mark World AIDS day and what a year it has been. We can look back to it and reflect on a lot that has gone on. This is a chance to learn and better where we came short as well as build on achievements realized thus far. This year’s theme is End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.

HIV in Figures

Before delving into the details, let us take a look at some of the statistics.

  • According to WHO, there were 37.7 million people living with HIV worldwide. Out of these, three quarters are in Africa.
  • There are about 1.5 million people living with HIV in Kenya
  • The prevalence of HIV in Kenya as of 2018 is 4.9%
  • The prevalence in women in Kenya is 6.6%
  • The prevalence in men in Kenya is 3.1%
  • The adults on Antiretroviral Therapy are one million which translates to a 75% ART coverage in Kenya.
  • Annual new HIV infections stand at 52,000 in Kenya

An Overview of HIV and AIDS

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that weakens the immune system and makes one vulnerable to many other diseases. The virus can be transmitted when one comes into contact with the body fluids of an infected person such as blood, semen, amniotic fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. In Kenya, the majority of infections are through sexual contact. Having unprotected sex puts one at high risk of acquiring the virus.

If left untreated, HIV infection progresses to AIDS which is the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. At this stage, the body’s immune system is weakened and many diseases attack the individual and outcomes can be devastating.

Kenya and the world at large has made progress in response to HIV and AIDS. Treatment has been initiated for most of HIV-positive cases although there still exist some gaps that need to be addressed.

The Targets

UNAIDS came up with strategies to help end AIDS by 2030. This strategy was announced in 2014. The aim is to:

  • Diagnose 95% of all people living with HIV.
  • 95% of those diagnosed to be on antiretroviral therapy (ART).
  • 95% of those on ART to be virally suppressed.

According to the Ministry of Health Kenya Report on HIV Estimates of 2018, the coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission was 77%.

There are clear gaps on the way to meeting the targets and we might have to step up efforts to achieve them. This can be done at all levels, starting at the individual level and escalating to the policymakers and even global administration systems.

What Covid-19 has Taught Us

The last two years have been tough on the world and the healthcare sector has been under the spotlight. COVID-19 is here and it seems to be relentless. There have been commendable steps that have been taken to curb this virus. From the lockdowns, prompt isolation of the variants, diagnosing advancements, and the rollout of the vaccines. This showed the world that we are truly a resilient lot and challenges can be overcome. All it takes is a good strategy and concerted efforts to achieve a common goal.

The willingness of the different stakeholders to come together and the commitment of all those involved led to what we have achieved thus far. There is a significant reduction in the initial strain on the healthcare systems. There is also more information out there concerning the virus and this has all been achieved thanks to determination shown by everyone involved. We can say with conviction that we are headed in the right direction regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are better prepared to face a similar situation because there are some blueprints we can follow.

Well, there have obviously been some shortcomings that we can learn from. HIV is a pandemic that has been with us for a long period. The disease has spread to all corners of the world and its effects are being felt all over. There have also been achievements that have been made in many parts of the world. But some regions still lag behind. Africa in particular has been left behind in terms of achieving the long-term goals of curbing HIV and AIDS. Reasons that have been attributed include the high poverty index in the region and socio-political instabilities.

What has come out clearly during this period is the need for the world to come up with methods of dealing with pandemics. Needless to say, we would have handled COVID-19 better if we had reached optimal levels with HIV and AIDS. Although the modes of transmission are different, there are some common things to borrow from the nature of these two diseases. For instance, if we had solid methods of reducing contact between people at the very beginning, we would have contained the infections from the onset. Although that is difficult to achieve in a world where interactions are the order of the day, suppose we took time to create models based on HIV, we could have recreated the same and worked around the ambush by COVID-19.

HIV Deserves Attention

According to data by the National Aids Control Council, there are 23,900 AIDS-related deaths in Kenya among people aged 15 years and above every year. In children, the figure is 4000 annually. These are large numbers that call for a response. We certainly need to change the way we are managing things currently. Young adults account for a significant number of annual AIDS-related deaths and this translates to a loss of lives that would have been otherwise productive. The population is thus depleted of skills and labor and this is truly a grave loop affecting the development of the nation.  

While COVID-19 causes its effects acutely, HIV typically takes some time. The incubation period and latent stages of the disease make it have delayed diagnosis and the management is initiated late. The nature of COVID-19 infections made them get the world’s attention in the blink of an eye. The infection ravages in a matter of days. The prompt interventions were influenced by pronounced symptoms and the acute nature of the disease. Well, HIV affects us in a different way but the outcomes are similar to those of COVID-19 because poor management leads to poor quality of life and death. The response that was given to COVID-19 should as well be given to HIV and this will definitely fast track the achievement of targets that have been set.

So as we look to end the inequalities, we need to focus on all the aspects. As it has been stated, the delays in curbing COVID-19 in some parts of the world will obviously affect the response to HIV. The measures set to curb COVID-19 made it difficult for people to seek treatment for other conditions including follow-up on HIV and related conditions. It takes concerted efforts to achieve great outcomes.

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