Kenya is making great strides in tackling HIV/AIDS, with a fall in the HIV positive population and a surge in the number of people getting tested and receiving treatment, according to a government survey released on Tuesday.
Kenya has the fourth largest HIV positive population in the world, after South Africa, Nigeria and India. But the number of Kenyans living with the disease fell from 1.4 million to 1.2 million between 2007 and 2012, the 2012 Kenya Aids Indicator Survey revealed on Tuesday.
The prevalence of HIV among adults dropped from 7.2 to 5.6 percent in the same period.
"We've made huge progress in Kenya both in reducing the number of new infections and getting people living with HIV on treatment," Maya Harper, the United Nations AIDS country director, said at the launch of the report. "Testing, knowledge of status, male circumcision in Nyanza, access to treatment - I think those have been great leaps forward in Kenya in the last five years."
More than 600,000 Kenyan men have been circumcised through a voluntary government programme since 2008, particularly in the western region of Nyanza, where it has traditionally not been part of the local culture.
Male circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by more than 60 percent.
"Circumcision scale-up has been more successful in Kenya than in any other African country," said Kevin De-Cocks, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for Global Health.
PHOBIA HAS DECLINED
Most exciting is the huge increase in the number of Kenyans getting tested. This is important because people need to know that they are infected so that they can seek treatment.
The percentage of adults who have taken an HIV test more than doubled from 34 percent to 72 percent between 2007 and 2012. Two-thirds of those tested have been tested more than once.
The government has campaigned actively for people to find out their status, offering free tests, including at home. About seven million Kenyans now take an HIV test each year.
"The phobia which was there before now seems to have declined," said James Macharia, the cabinet secretary for health. "In the past, people used to get tested for HIV secretly. They'd be going to the remotest testing locations because nobody wanted to be seen entering those VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) locations."
As a result, almost half of HIV positive Kenyans are aware that they have the disease - up from 16 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2012.
With more people knowing their status, more people are taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to suppress the virus. Not only does this improve their health and their body's ability to fight off opportunistic infections, it also reduces the chance of their giving HIV to others.
Almost nine out of ten HIV positive people who know their status and are eligible for ART are receiving treatment.
One of the reasons that Kenya's prevalence rate remains quite stable is the large number of people taking ART.
"Because of ART, they are staying alive," said De-Cocks.
As a result, the highest HIV prevalence rate in Kenya (9.1 percent) is among middle-aged people aged 45 to 54 - contrary to assumptions that HIV predominantly affects young people.
This is a significant change from 2007, when the highest prevalence was among those aged 25 to 34 (10.5 percent). Prevalence among this age group fell to 6.4 percent in 2012, showing that there are fewer new infections among young people.