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Kenya marks World AIDS Day

NAIROBI, December 1 – Monday is World AIDS Day when nations focus on the disease that has killed 25 million people since 1981.

National AIDS Control Council Chief Executive Alloys Orago says this year’s celebrations surround a national target to have at least 1.5 million Kenyans knowing their HIV status by 2010.

“We have a challenge as a country that by the year 2010 we are expected to provide testing and counselling to 80 percent of adults in Kenya. By the end of last year only 36 percent of Kenyans knew their status,” he told Capital News.

This year’s 1.5 million target is expected to boost the figure to the 60 percent mark.

Several awareness walks will take place on Monday culminating in a national commemoration of the day at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. 

The latest Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey released in July showed that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was at 7.8 percent up from 6.7 percent in 2003.

Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) has announced that “45 percent of all new HIV infections occur in the 15–24 year-old age group.”

In a new document released on Monday, four UN agencies also said that early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV.

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It reports that “without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday.”

It notes Kenya is among some of the countries hardest hit by HIV and AIDS, where early infant testing is being scaled up.

The report also recommends expanded access to antiretroviral drugs for pregnant women in need of treatment; integrating HIV and AIDS services with primary health-care programmes; and making prevention programmes more relevant to the needs of adolescents and young people.

More HIV/AIDS awareness activities were lined up for the week including an International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa starting Wednesday in Dakar, Senegal.

Ahead of the meet the Save the Children organisation called on both African governments and the international community to keep their promise and commitments on AIDS and to children despite the financial crisis. 

Most western governments are looking to tighten their purse-strings in response to the global financial crisis, and Save the Children warns that “any cut in HIV and AIDS funding would put the life of more African children in danger.” 

“Despite annual increases in funding to the tune of  $10 billion last year –  the current level of resources has fallen short of what is needed to meet the target of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care by 2010,” the organisation said in a statement.

At the Group of Eight Summit last July, the most industrialised countries agreed to spend $60 billion over five years to fight diseases such as HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa.

And the question on the minds of donors and many policy makers this World Aids Day is just how well utilised those Aids Funds are; do they go to the right programs and reach the most affected populations?

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Since 2002, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has invested more than $8 billion to support national AIDS treatment programmes, out of the $14 billion spent to combat diseases in 140 countries.

The two key methods of HIV transmission are unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.

Analysts say more funds should be spent on the provision of condoms and clean needles and not abstinence talks which bear little fruit.

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