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Authorities launch HIV tests on bodies in mortuaries

Health & Science

NAIROBI: Authorities are conducting HIV tests on bodies in mortuaries to collect data to help manage HIV trends.

The National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) has launched the HIV Mortuary Surveillance in Nairobi. The research leading to the report sought to find the link between HIV infection and deaths in two of Nairobi's largest morgues – Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) mortuary and City Mortuary.

Martin Sirengo, the head of NASCOP said: "It provides information about the causes of death among all Nairobi residents as well as those living with HIV."

The study also sought to determine the viral load of those who died with HIV infection.

"By reviewing medical records of the deceased, the study is able to tell us more on whether they were virally suppressed," said Dr Sirengo.

This emerged at the launch of new guidelines on treatment of HIV in Kenya. This study now lays a foundation for conducting HIV surveillance in mortuaries. In January 2015, serological tests were conducted on bodies and those that turned out HIV positive had their viral load tested.

The cause of death was considered to determine whether the dead fit into the sample size. The study period covered 1,246 bodies in the two morgues. Some 807 were aged 15 years and above, making them eligible.

Some 256 were at City Mortuary while 526 were in KNH morgue. Out of all these bodies, 66 per cent were male. The researchers collected specimen from 601 eligible bodies and tested them for HIV.

Out of the tested bodies, one in every five were HIV positive. HIV prevalence was higher in KNH compared to City Mortuary. The number of female bodies with HIV was double the number of males.


Those with anti-retroviral therapy treatment history had their viral load at its lowest compared to those who did not have treatment history. 

Generally, the research showed that HIV was the underlying cause of death in 12 per cent of the bodies – it was an accelerating factor - while 65 out of every 100 which were positive died because of HIV.

Medical records were available for hospital bed deaths, mainly inpatient. This made it difficult for the researchers to establish whether some deaths could have been due to treatment failure.

The NASCOP report came against a backdrop of a report by AVAC, a global advocacy for HIV prevention, that there were major gaps in global HIV and Aids data, which had led to a hindrance in HIV prevention.

"In an era in which big data are expected to improve essentially every part of our lives, there's no excuse for HIV prevention data systems to be so uneven, incomplete and inefficient," said Mitchell Warren, AVAC's executive director.

"To have any chance of ending the epidemic by 2030, we need to be collecting and accounting for every bit of useful information from every person living with or at risk of HIV," he added.

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