1 December 2009

Kenya: Thousands Tested to Mark Aids Day

Nairobi — Thousands of Kenyans on Tuesday volunteered for HIV tests to mark the World Aids Day.

Kenya also celebrated a decrease in the number of new infections.

Among 15-year-olds and above, new infections reduced from 155,000 to 130,000 by last year, thanks to a series of campaigns calling for behaviour change.

Condom use increased to above 128 million in the same period.

Special Programmes minister Naomi Shaban encouraged Kenyans to get tested as a step in the fight against HIV and Aids.

"People are far more relaxed and inclined to talk about the disease now than they were 25 years ago," Dr Shaban said at Kenyatta International Conference Centre on Tuesday to mark World Aids Day.

The minister praised efforts by various organisations in creating awareness on the condition as the country also commemorated a decade of managing HIV and Aids as a national disaster.

Currently 1.4 million Kenyans are infected with HIV with 250,000 of them on treatment. Another 250,000 patients need the drugs but cannot access them.

Governments in developing countries were challenged to step up efforts against Aids by allocating more funds to fight the disease.

Most African countries aspire to provide anti-retroviral drugs to 80 per cent of those in need, but many still cannot get the medicines.

In Kenya, only half of the 500,000 people requiring the life-prolonging drugs are on treatment.

Availability of the drugs in developing countries at the end of 2006 stood at 26 per cent coverage while in 2007 the number increased by nine per cent.

Kenya's National Aids Control Council says 86,000 deaths have been avoided by increasing anti-retroviral therapy.

Experts have argued that making lifelong commitments to support the patients on daily medication has been made more difficult by lack of adequate health infrastructure, including workers and supplies of effective drugs.

At least 400,000 people have been tested in the last one week according to government statistics.

The National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme (Nascop) head, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, told the Daily Nation that by the end of the campaign, they hoped to have tested one million people, 300,000 more people than those tested last year during the national testing.

A decline in HIV prevalence in urban areas was noted though an increase was noted in rural areas.

Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission testing coverage now stands at 94 per cent according to the National Aids Control Council.

Though safe blood supply was still low at 48 per cent, there was increased awareness among the public on the modes of transmission and prevention strategies.

This year's theme was 'Universal access to Aids treatment and Human rights'. It requires leaders and donors to commit themselves to guarantee treatment for decades for every person on ARVs.

At Nation Media Group, the chief executive officer, Mr Linus Gitahi launched voluntary counselling and testing and encouraged employees to get tested to lead stress-free lives.

"Knowing your HIV status is important and should be a priority for everyone," Mr Gitahi said before getting tested in one of the three testing tents set up at Nation Centre for the one week testing period.

The launch was presided over by Mr Gitahi, Dr Arif Neky, the Regional Chief Executive Officer of the Aga Khan Foundation in East Africa and Ms Nasim Devji, the Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Trust Bank.

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