This year’s theme for World Aids day is putting ourselves to the test: Achieving Equity to end HIV. Every day a person tests positive for HIV.
It seems that a lot has changed except for the rate at which the infected persons are stigmatised. This day is marked to create more awareness concerning the disease, support those infected in all aspects and honour those who died from HIV-related diseases.
The rate of infections has dropped in the last decade, but a new study shows an alarming increase in new HIV infections in people below 29 years. This could be the reason the government has doubled its financial support this year. According to Dr Patrick Amoth, acting Director General for Health, the government has allocated Sh5.6 billion to support HIV programmes.
To echo Dr Ruth Masha, the National Aids Control Council (NACC) Chief Executive Officer, young people account for about 61 per cent of new HIV infections, which slows down efforts to curb its spread. The deadly disease no longer scares young people.
I recall a time when one of my primary school teachers took us to see a grave nearby and warned that if we played around, we could end up in such a grave. Every time we passed by that graveyard, we would remember that HIV/Aids kills, hence avoided talking to boys and sharing razor blades, etc. Our curriculum offered books that created awareness through scary pictures that showed a contrast between uninfected individuals and those living with HIV.
The government consistently provided free condoms and put up advertisements about HIV prevention. These helped reduce the rate of infections. Nowadays, however, most young people risk getting infected.
This is not to say that every infected person obtained it immorally. HIV/Aids can be acquired through FGM, male circumcision, sexual gender-based violence such as rape, gay relationships, prostitution, blood transfusion.
There is need to create more awareness. Information on this deadly disease can be shared through conferences, and online classes that may be added to every school’s curriculum. Religious institutions ought to include topics on HIV in their sermons or youth meetings.
They should encourage parents to be bold enough to talk about sex and its dangers, especially to unmarried people; that abstinence could be a better option to reducing risk of HIV infection at an early age.
Given that the fight against acquiring HIV is still on, we ought to offer equality in terms of service delivery to the infected, protect their dignity by eliminating all forms of stigmatisation.
Additionally, since orphans living with HIV are the most affected, society should emulate United States Agency for International Development (USAIDs’) ways of providing, protecting and ensuring the well- being of every child.
-Ms Tanui is Journalist