, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 3 – At least 44 percent of new HIV infections in the country are occurring among couples – either married or cohabiting – according to the National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP).
NASCOP head Dr Nicholas Muraguri said another 30 percent of new infections occurred among high risk groups like commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users.
"They are small in number if you count them but the impact in terms of new infections is major. HIV prevalence among sex workers living in Nairobi is 32 percent, in other words every third female sex worker in Nairobi is HIV positive," Dr Muraguri said.
Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) have 25 percent HIV prevalence while intravenous drug users have 20 percent HIV prevalence.
"So these groups have four or five times more prevalence than the general population which is at 6.3 percent," he said.
National statistics indicate that at least 122,000 new HIV infections occur in the country annually.
Dr Muraguri said Kenya now needed to rethink the role of ARV\’s in reducing HIV transmission in the wake of scientific research indicating that starting treatment early could significantly reduce HIV transmission.
"If you narrow down to couples who are discordant (where one partner is HIV positive and another negative), we are talking about six percent which is a great risk," he said.
"We need to think about how we can have preferential access to treatment for this person who is infected. If we are going to use ARV\’s to reduce transmission, they may have to access ARV\’s before they are eligible for treatment," he added.
Currently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards are that a person living with HIV should start treatment when their CD4 count (a type of white blood cell that fights infection and their count indicate the stage of HIV/AIDS in a patient) is below 350. There have been suggestions to have this increased to 500.
And as the world marks 30 years this month since the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported, Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi said though there was significant progress in stabilising the HIV prevalence in the country more needed to be done.
"HIV/AIDS prevalence has gone down from 14 percent in the 1990\’s to 6.3 percent in 2009, but the epidemic is still a national disaster," she said.
At the same time the country has called for global support in its programs to deliver universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services to its people.
"We have to ensure that our prevention interventions are water tight enough," National Aids Control Council Director Professor Alloys Orago said.
"One area that is very strategic for us is how we engage the youth to revolutionalise prevention," he added.
The three were addressing a news conference ahead of a high level comprehensive HIV/AIDS review scheduled for next week in New York.