BY PETER ORENGO
NAIROBI, KENYA: Children in Western Kenya have joined in the fight against HIV after it emerged that the disease is still spreading rapidly despite several interventions by government and various organisations in the region.
The children from Siaya and Bungoma primary schools, some living with HIV while others are orphaned, have now formed clubs, which they use to pass messages of children rights, abstinence and effects of the HIV stigma they are going through.
They pass these massages during school functions and at chief’s barazas (meetings) whenever an opportunity arises.
According to the latest survey by the National Aids and STI Control Programme, HIV prevalence is on the decline in the country at 7.2 per cent.
However, Nyanza remains the region with the highest prevalence of persons living with HIV and Aids, at 15.1 per cent, which is almost three times the national prevalence rate of 5.6 per cent.
According to Ace Africa — an organisation that works with 50 schools in Siaya to provide support to orphans and vulnerable children in rural communities — HIV prevalence in Siaya alone is over 24 per cent. This has resulted in thousands of children orphaned by Aids either living with relatives, or taken in by donor organisations.
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“Cases of children orphaned and other community members put under threat by the pandemic are so rampant. This is why children have come out to say enough is enough,” said Augustine Wasonga, the Ace Africa country director.
Siaya’s Liganua Primary School has over 120 children involved in the Community Lifestyle Change campaign, which educates members on sanitation, healthy diet for HIV positive people among other pertinent issues.
Some of the HIV positive parents are in denial hence end up infecting others, while others abuse drugs and alcohol, which reduces their life span.
“The main initiatives include HIV counselling and testing services, to ensure that people go for treatment and at the same time support those confronted with stigma,” said Judith Okello, the patron of Child-to-Child club at Liganua primary.
Although HIV testing and counselling is done twice every month, only about 50 clients would be tested per month due to stigma and denial in the community.
However, thanks to the children’s initiative, the introduction of HIV trainings in the community and free medical treatment, the number of those tested has increased to over 200 clients.
Regular follow up and feedback reports show that there has been an improvement in the number of people seeking health services and among patients put on ARVs, there is noted reduction in drug default as well as bedridden cases and deaths.