Hope as new HIV infections drop in Kakamega county

Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

The number of HIV/Aids infections in Kakamega has reduced by 3.4 per cent this year, with the youth making up the bulk of new infections.

According to data from the Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) department at Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital, in 2021 the county recorded 6.6 per cent new infections, which has dropped to 3.2 per cent in 2022.

However, the number of people living with HIV/Aids in the county stands at 45,000 with youth being the most affected.

Experts have now warned on the need to sensitise young people in order to reduce the rate of infection.

Dr Ruth Kapanga, the Kakamega County Aids and STI coordinator, said that although the number of new infections has reduced, the county witnessed a low turnout of people coming to test for the virus.

"As much the infections was low this year, the alarming factor is that the 60 per cent of new infections were youth of between 15-24 years of age and this has been contributed by failure of youth to use protection, as well as some of the outdated cultures associated with sexual intercourse. Some patients decline to get medical assistance despite being infected," said Dr Kapanga.

She further said that despite health facilities providing adequate protective measures such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (Prep), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (Pep), condoms and testing kits, many youths were reluctant to collect them for fear of being stigmatised.

Dr Kapanga said Shinyalu and Lurambi sub-counties have started recording a high number of new HIV infections, which she linked to a culture of wife inheritance after a spouse's death.

"We have seen in most of the affected areas that certain cultures like wife inheritance have contributed to new infections where the culture is done without proper medical and health status examinations," said Dr Kapanga.

The medic said they are targeting youth and groups that are at high risk of infection, adding that they have kicked off campaign awareness in Lurambi and Shinyalu constituencies.

She further noted that people have started embracing education and counseling pertaining to HIV matters.

"The main strategy we have been using that has seen a reduction in the number of HIV infections is that soon after discovering one is HIV positive, we put him/her immediately on treatment and that will make the viral load to be low, hence reducing transmission of the virus," she said.

She added that they have rolled out sex education among youth in various learning institutions and in programmes organised by the county government, stating that more young people are not sure of their status, and rampant stigma makes them bear the brunt of the virus.

However, people living with HIV in the county said they were experiencing a shortage of condoms and other prevention commodities in health facilities.

"As much as we are infected, we need those protective gears so that we can remain safe and protect those who are close to us," said a resident.

Another resident said some of the antiretroviral drugs given to patients cause serious side effects, and this has led to some of them defaulting on treatment.

"The drugs should be made with a lot of care not to affect the patients because some us have told the doctors the side effects of the drugs but we have been told to continue taking them despite the side effects," he said.

According to a report released by United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), adolescents and young people represent a growing number of people living with HIV worldwide. In 2021 alone, 410,000 young people between the ages of 10 to 24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 160,000 were adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19.

Unicef recommends school-based sex education to change the knowledge, attitudes and practices that lead to risky sexual behaviour among the young population.