Target adolescents and young people in war against HIV/Aids

Adolescents are being educated about an App dubbed 'heroes' at Bondo sub-county hospital in Siaya county. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

On December 1, we marked World Aids Day. Efforts and conversations to end HIV/Aids continue at the International Conference to End Aids in Africa taking place in South Africa. The theme for the conference, which started on December 6 and ends tomorrow, is 'Africa’s Aids response: The race to 2030 – Evidence. Scale Up. Accelerate.' One area of focus is to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on the HIV/Aids response and to share lessons learned in overcoming barriers in maintaining continuity of care for people living with and at risk of HIV infection.

To sustain progress towards ending Aids, there is a need to address all barriers to access of HIV prevention, care and treatment services. According to UNAIDS, in many of the most effective Aids responses, community-led organisations have been engaged to convey evidence-informed prevention and treatment information relevant to different perspectives and to set up HIV services for key populations experiencing discrimination. People living with HIV have secured a seat at the decision-making table, while civil society advocacy and community-led monitoring have improved HIV services.

The intense engagement of communities must be sustained.

Kenya has over the past three decades made enormous gains in the fight against HIV/Aids. The Kenya HIV Estimates 2020 indicates that there has been a 44 per cent reduction in new HIV infections from a high of 75,000 in 2010 to 41,416 in 2019 with a decline of Aids-related deaths in the same period by 59 per cent. Sadly, there has been a rapid increase in HIV infections among adolescents and young people and the disruption of the HIV prevention, care and treatment services by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has led to the loss of gains made in the fight against HIV/Aids over the years. This calls for more concerted efforts and renewed strategies by the government, communities, civil society organisations and development partners so that this drawback can be addressed.

Adolescent and young people aged 15-29 years account for approximately 61.2 per cent of all new adult HIV infections, which stands at 21,176 out 34,610 people (14,218 females and 6,958 males). It is important to note that this age group also contributes to 304,348 people living with HIV out of which 206,968 are female and 97,380 male.

Focus on adolescents and young people, some of whom are still in school, is critical.

There is a need to invest more on innovations that target behaviour change among youth. This can be mobile games or investment in social media avenues which the youth use frequently. There is a need to analyse the return-on-investment review of current strategies, strengthen what is working and change what is not working.

The Kenya Aids Strategic Framework II targets to reduce HIV infections by 75 per cent by 2025. There is a need to invest and device interventions that will help realise this goal and to increase funding and resources towards behavioural interventions. Adolescents and young people must be at the centre of these efforts.

Every Kenyan has a right to equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care, including Covid-19 vaccination, to ease the adverse effects of Covid-19 on the HIV response.

Ms Mwende is a social scientist