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Young adults eroding gains made in HIV war

When Kevin Kariu completed high school aged 18, he decided to experiment with a number of things, including his sexuality.

The civil engineering student engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle from 2014, living precariously until February when he decided to take a HIV test.

It was then Mr Kariu found out he had been infected with the lifelong disease, making him part of worrying statistics.

Brigid Marnane, who works with HIV patients in informal settlements around the Mater Hospital, said young adults like Kariu needed behavioural change.

She said under their programme, they received 140 children and over 3,500 adults yet a majority of those newly infected fall between nine and 14 years of age.

“We hear very harrowing tales from the young ones and some (who) come from poor backgrounds tell us that they had to sell their bodies for food. Some say overcrowding in the slums led them to it,” she said.

According to the National Aids Control Council (NACC), the number of new infections among youths aged between 15 and 24 years increased in 2016, with the group contributing to two in every five new infections.

The report reveals that while all other groups' infection rates had gone down, the number of new infections among young adult had stagnated.

When launching the report early this year, NACC Chief Executive Officer Nduku Kilonzo said this age group contributed to 43 per cent of new infections, with 26,000 cases reported last year while 3,300 died of AIDS-related ailments.

According to Ms Kilonzo, who was speaking during the HIV and AIDS 2017 conference in Nairobi, most adolescents who acquire HIV are infected through risky sexual behaviour.

"Condom use is still problematic because cutting down the high numbers can be done if only people use condoms for every sexual episode where their partners' status is unknown," she said.

Head of the National AIDS and STI's Control Programme (Nascop) Kigen Barmasai yesterday said the statistics were alarming.

He added that failure to resist forced sex from partners and having sexual intercourse under the influence of alcohol or drugs were fuelling new infections among this group.

Mr Barmasai, who was speaking at the Mater hospital during a World Aids Day event, said adolescents pose a great challenge that cannot be tackled on its own since they also have issues with reproductive health and nutrition.

“They really need to be taught a lot including life skills, career and not just HIV. We can reach out to those in schools where there are structures. However, we need to devise plans on how to reach those out of the system,” he said.

Barmasai said the Ministry of Health and Nascop were working on guidelines for teachers and caregivers in an effort to best launch programmes that work best for them.

 The NACC report also showed an estimated 4,900 children below the age of 14 contracted HIV last year alone, and the children contracted the disease mainly through mother-child transmission

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