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Injections’ link to new HIV infections worrying

EDITORIAL
By Editorial | Apr 23rd 2014 | 3 min read

Kenya: Revelations that the epicentre of the killer human immuno-deficiency (HIV) virus has shifted to health clinics and other health facilities is worrying.

It is not hard to miss the irony that where one would essentially go for treatment from sickness is where they end up infected with one of the world’s dreaded viruses.

Though used syringes have been listed as some of the main causes of the spread of the virus, no one anticipated that it would be as prevalent as revealed in a report.

And these are not the district or Level 5 hospitals or provincial hospitals. No, they are clinics mostly run by private practitioners. Looked at another way, it means that the places where the poor of the poor go for available and affordable treatment are turning out to be killers.

Life is priceless. Yet, with a single injection from a contaminated syringe at a clinic, one is exposed to the virus.

Ministry of Health figures put the current HIV prevalence in the country at 5.7 per cent (1.6m) of the adult population.  Half of this was spread through unsafe injections. While the UN estimates that one out every 200 Kenyans gets infected with the virus each year, that figure could be lower.

The Kenya Aids Indicator Survey says poor disposal of used medical waste, a high number of injections for people who are HIV positive, re-use of equipment by medical workers, especially traditional practitioners, and the age-old trust in injected treatment has opened a new frontier in the epidemic.

With much of the population under threat of infection through such means, the country is facing a crisis. Presently, one out of every nine households have been affected by the virus. So although heterosexual sex remains the major avenue for the spread of the virus, the new revelations are throwing up a new twist because they fall outside the so-called ABC of HIV; abstinence, being faithful and using a condom. 

This strategy was deployed in the 1990s to drive down the rates of infection with much success. In essence, the new route of infection is threatening to undo the successful work that has gone into fighting the scourge. UN data show that though the rates of prevalence have continued to fall year on year, the rates of infection have remained the same, at times higher. It is easy to know why now.

With a huge part of the population exposed through such ways and with the methods seemingly off the mark, the fight to contain the spread of the virus is akin to taking two steps forward and three steps back. That is costly. It means that many people are dying needlessly and that a lot of what has been spent on educating the masses about the dangers of engaging in unprotected sex or having multiple partners is going to waste.

What is more, the avenues through which most of these infections are spread are not regulated health institutions, but clinics that supplement the work of the mainstream health institutions where quacks operate.

The current trend where clinics and pharmacies are registered using third parties exposes many to serious health hazards because of lack of professionalism during the treatment of patients. This is where the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board (KMPDB) comes into focus. These killer clinics and dispensing chemists seems to have escaped through the net.

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