Kenya struggles to end mother-to-child HIV transmission

April 14, 2015 3:04 pm
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Health Secretary James Macharia with master Elijah who was born with HIV. Photo/ FILE

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 14 – Jokes on lists of shame and visas into heaven punctuated the opening day of the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and Keeping Mothers Alive in Kenya Stocktaking Meeting.

The meeting was hosted by the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) to evaluate where counties individually and the nation as a whole, are in the effort to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV; Kenya being one of 21 countries with the highest transmission rates and with the global deadline for eliminating mother to child transmission being December 31, 2015.

It emerged that 17,432 of 69,815 expectant mothers who tested positive for HIV in 2014 did not take up anti-retroviral therapy compared to 2012 when only 4,175 of 56,355 who tested positive did not.

Nine counties in particular were identified as having the worst uptake of ARVs and formed Director of Medical Services, Dr Nicholas Muraguri’s List of Shame.

The counties are Nairobi, Kisumu, Busia, Homa Bay, Migori, Uasin Gishu, Kiambu, Nakuru and Siaya.

“If I were meant to go to hell and I told God I helped save his children from HIV I’m sure he would grant me the visa into heaven. How about these nine counties?” he posed to the county health officials present for Tuesday’s meeting.

Several things were identified as contributing factors to the low uptake of ARVs in these counties and they include labour challenges and stigma.

“The go-slow in Pumwani which handles 20,000 births a year is a case in point. What happens to the mothers who go there for clinic today? Who will test them for HIV? Who will get them on ARTs?” Muraguri posed.

In his statement, Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia placed the burden on county governments given the health function was devolved but Muraguri said the national government was working with the county governments to boost their capacity.

“The good thing is we have trained health workers looking for employment opportunities which the counties can capitalise on. Through NASCOP, we’re also training county health workers on how to handle HIV cases and the sensitivities they need to employ,” he told Capital FM News.

On a positive note, he said 88 percent of expectant mothers were tested for HIV in 2013 which is only two percentage points short of the 90 percent global deadline.

He said First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that the Ministry of Health ensure all HIV positive children are on ARVs was proof of the national government’s commitment to eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV.

READ: Uhuru orders provision of drugs to all kids with HIV

According to the last Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey of 2012, thirteen percent of new HIV infections were among children, mostly through mother to child transmission, with women more likely to be infected than men.

Research also shows that 70 percent of expectant mothers are below 24 years of age and given women in this age group are at a high risk of contracting HIV, Kevin DeCock of the US Centre for Disease Control advised that as the government addresses medical staffing shortages and stigma in the effort to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV, family planning should not be left behind.

“A pregnancy that does not happen cannot lead to a maternal death and cannot lead to a HIV infected child.”


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