Nairobi — Nairobi County plans to start a comprehensive, two-year campaign called "Zero Infections in Nairobi" in September to tame the growth rate of new HIV infections countywide.
"We are rolling out robust, thought-out, sustainable and results-oriented HIV prevention strategies and county-wide campaigns because we believe this is the best way to cut down on the new infections," Nairobi County Secretary of Health Timothy Kingondu told Sabahi.
Nairobi County leads all other Kenyan counties in HIV infections, as documented in a report by the Commission for Revenue Allocations. According to the report, Nairobi County has 199,100 people living with HIV/AIDS, with Homa Bay County in second with 150,000 and Kisumu County in third with 113,000. Nairobi County also led the nation in the number of new infections.
"We cannot let the number balloon any further. 199,100 HIV infections are too many for Nairobi," Kingondu told Sabahi. "We need to re-look at how we address the underlying cause factors and revise our communication strategies if we are to contain this scourge."
One way the city will tackle new cases of HIV infections is through provision of free condoms.
"Five years ago, we had over 1,000 condom-dispensing machines distributed within places like bars, members' clubs, washrooms and dispensaries. Today, these boxes are empty, vandalised or non-existent," he said. "We want to install 5,000 more boxes by the end of this year and they shall have dedicated staff to monitor their efficiency, working conditions and daily replenishment."
The county government also wants to make antiretroviral prophylaxis accessible to women and men after potential exposure to HIV in cases of rape, Kingondu said.
"No one should be infected with HIV because he or she was raped," he said. "We want Nairobians to know they can get assistance as soon as rape happens. We are therefore rolling out an emergency, timely and robust health mechanism to protect the innocent victims of rape."
In the coming months, there will be ongoing public campaigns around the city providing information and encouraging residents to get tested for the virus, he said.
The county also is helping to form a special inter-ministry health committee at the national level to harmonise HIV-related policies that trickle down to the county level, Kingondu said.
HIV/AIDS preventive initiatives must be realistic:
The higher rate of new infections in Nairobi County reflects changing social norms that should be acknowledged and confronted, NACC Executive Director Alloys Orago said.
"Sexual behaviours in Nairobi County, such as wife swapping, having more than one sexual partner and refusal to use protective devices like a condom are germination grounds for new HIV infections," he said. "The risk factors must be mentioned, confronted and crushed without fear," said Orago.
He said the government should not shy from educating people about the risks, despite moral concerns raised by some sections of society.
For example, in March the government pulled the Health Ministry's "Weka Condom Mpangoni" ("Have a Condom When Cheating") advertisement from television after pressure from religious leaders, he said.
The advertisement should have continued to air as preventive initiatives can only be effective when realistic and based on what is happening in people's lives, Orago said.
Nonetheless, Governor of Nairobi County Evans Kidero defended the government's decision to suspend the advertisement, saying another that better reflects the values of all Kenyans will replace it soon.
"Although the 'Weka Condom Mpangoni' advert was presented with good intentions, the message was interpreted wrongly because it looked as if it OK'd infidelity in marriages, as long as condoms were used," Kidero said.
The county already is working on a new advertisement, with consultation from religious leaders and other interested parties, he said, adding, "We will [conduct] proper consultations with all stakeholders before it is broadcast to the public".
Doctor Patrick Mureithi, who heads the NACC's monitoring and evaluation unit, urged Nairobi residents to focus on protecting their lives and not be dissuaded by fear of being ostracised by society. In addition, he said, undesirable behaviour can be changed with a better understanding of the risks involved.
"If we provide adequate, crucial and timely information on behavioural changes and tie this to a sustained media presence through informative and reminder adverts, definitely issues like casual one-night stands, wife swapping, and [people's] negative view on the use of a condom will decrease," Mureithi said.