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Number of HIV positive children dips

By Gatonye Gathura

Kenya: The number of children infected by HIV and Aids is much less than previously estimated, a survey has revealed.

A new analysis of the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) completed last year and which sampled 5,162 children aged between 18 months and 14 years says there are about 104,000 HIV infected children in the country. This was the first survey to include children.

Previous estimates based on what is called mathematical modelling had put the figure at 220,000.  The detailed analysis of the study published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes had covered all regions of the country apart from Northern Kenya because of insecurity.

This may be good news for First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, who is on a mission to save children from HIV related deaths. Mrs Kenyatta is spearheading the Beyond Zero campaign, which aims to reduce the number of deaths among women and children in the country.

But even with the revised estimates the task at hand is still enormous because the mothers have to give birth in hospitals, be tested for HIV and those found to be positive put on medication.  Also the children first have to be born in hospitals, be tested for HIV and those positive be put on antiretroviral drugs.

The survey, carried out by the Ministry of Health, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the University of California also revealed that much of this is not happening today.

The study team, led by Bernadette Ng’eno, however says they could have missed some cases occurring in children under 18 months but agree many children are not receiving treatment crucial for survival.

Medical experts are in agreement that many HIV-related deaths among children could be prevented through early diagnosis of HIV infection and early initiation of treatment.

Although these are well established facts, Dr Ng’eno and her team say the treatment scale-up for children has been slow as compared to adults in Kenya.

Stigma

“While we are approaching 80 per cent in the treatment for adults we are doing just about half of that in children at the moment,” said Nicholas Muraguri, director of the UN Global Plan Secretariat on mother to child HIV transmission.

He says one of the biggest challenges in getting more children tested and put on medication, is the fear of stigma and discrimination among parents and guardians.

“Almost half of parents or guardians fear discrimination against their children as a result of HIV testing,” said Dr Muraguri.