KENYA ENDING HIV IN BABIES
Out of every 10 mothers living with the virus, at least nine deliver HIV-negative babies, according to a new report released by the health ministry
Most Kenyan women living with HIV can now expect to deliver healthy babies who are free of the virus.
The Kenya HIV Estimates 2015 report released last week says of the 79,000 pregnant women with HIV last year, only about 6,000 passed the virus on to their babies.
This means out of every 10 mothers living with the virus, at least nine deliver HIV-negative babies.
This is a major stride for Kenya where only ten years ago HIVpositive women dreaded pregnancy because their babies would almost certainly become infected.
“Reduction of mother to child transmission represents the greatest impact we have felt,” says National Aids Control Council executive director Dr Nduku Kilonzo.
Transmission of HIV from mother to child is almost entirely preventable even if both parents are positive.
The mother only needs proper screening and medication during pregnancy. Proper management during delivery also reduces the risk of transmission.
Dr Kilonzo says this is now possible for most women thanks to the free maternity programme and political support by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.
The World Health Organisation nowadays advises HIV-positive mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months while ensuring they receive ARVs. This means that the child can benefit from breastfeeding with very little risk of becoming infected.
Nduku says in 2013, about 12,940 babies were born with HIV, but last year only 6,000 were positive.
“This represents 49 per cent reduction in mother to child transmission of HIV,” she says.
Preventive treatment for motherto-child transmission of HIV is usually not 100 per cent effective, so the WHO defines elimination as a reduction of transmission to a level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem.
The encouraging results mean Kenya can hope to soon join countries that have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV. They include Cuba, Moldova, Armenia and Belarus.
The HIV estimates released last week show remarkable progress in combating the potentially deadly virus across the country.
“We have reduced our new HIV infections among adults, but more significantly among children, where we have seen a 49 per cent reduction in transmission of HIV from mothers to children,” says Health Principal Secretary Dr Nicholas Muraguri.
In general, the estimates reveal that national HIV prevalence stands at 5.9 per cent, with about 1.5 million Kenyans living with HIV.
The report also reveals a worrying trend where 35,000 young people aged 14 to 24 years contract the virus every year.
Cumulatively, 268,588 young people in this age bracket live with the virus, which means their chance to transmit it is high, unless they are given antiretroviral therapy the rest of their lives.
“This means that the shared prosperity of Kenya that we all ascribe to may not be achieved if we are unable to turn our youth into a productive force due to ill-health,” says Dr Muraguri.
Teenage girls account for more than half of these infections and are now twice likely to contract HIV as boys.
Head of the National Aids and STIs Control Programme Martin Sirengo said the trend of teenagers contracting the virus is worrying.
“The counties that had low youth prevalence in the past are now rising in prevalence,” he said.
COUNTY STATISTICS For the first time, the Kenya HIV Estimates listed HIV burden and control progress in each county.
It shows that youth aged between 15 and 24 years from Homa Bay county lead the pack with new infections, followed by Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu and Kisii counties. These seven counties contributed to 66 per cent of all new infections in 2015.
Homa Bay county led with 5,473 cases followed by Kisumu ( 4, 996 ), Siaya ( 4, 377 ), Migori ( 2, 895 ),
OF THE 79,000 PREGNANT WOMEN WITH HIV LAST YEAR, ONLY ABOUT 6,000 PASSED THE VIRUS ON TO THEIR BABIES. THIS IS A MAJOR STRIDE FOR KENYA WHERE ONLY TEN YEARS AGO, HIV-POSITIVE WOMEN DREADED PREGNANCY BECAUSE THEIR BABIES WOULD ALMOST CERTAINLY BECOME INFECTED.
Nairobi ( 2,282 ), Mombasa ( 1, 283 ), Kiambu ( 1, 199 ) and Kisii ( 1, 178 ).
“In absolute terms, a large proportion of Kenya’s population is infected or affected with HIV. The spread of the epidemic must be halted, with zero new infecftions the principal target,” says the report.
There were several key highlights from the report.
PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV
The report estimated the total number of people living with HIV to be 1.5 million in 2015. Of these, 98,169 were children aged less than 15 years, accounting for six per cent of all infections.
The number of youths aged 15 to 24 years who live with HIV is 268,588 , accounting for 18 per cent of all infections.
In total, half of all adults older than 15 years living with HIV are 830,243 women.
TRENDS IN NEW HIV INFECTIONS
The report says that new infections among adults aged 15 years and above declined from 83,000 in 2010 to 77, 648 in 2015, representing a seven per cent decline. Among children, the infections declined from 12,358 in 2010 to 6,613 in 2015, a 46 per cent decline over the period.
Among young people aged 15-24 years, new infections dropped from 37,566 in 2010 to 35,776 in 2015.
“Kenya remains the fourth largest epidemic globally; and even though we have managed to reduce the rates of new HIV infections to 77,647 per year, we still have major gaps in the resource envelop available for the HIV response,” says Health Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu.
About 900,000 Kenyans are on retroviral therapy, up from less than 500,000 in 2010. This is partly because, until recently, the country provided ART only for patients who reached a specific threshold in HIV disease progression. However, in late 2015, based on new scientific findings, the WHO recommended that everyone with HIV be offered ART as soon as they are diagnosed. This is a strategy known as “treat all” or “test and treat.”
Antiretroviral therapy is a combination of drugs (usually three) that stop the the virus from making copies of itself in the body. While ART cannot cure HIV, it has turned HIV into a manageable chronic disease for millions of people worldwide and dramatically reduced deaths from HIV.
The same drugs that keep people living with HIV from becoming sick also prevent transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their infants. Kenya puts all pregnant women with HIV on ART treatment.
The ministry of health estimates that the scale up of ART has saved more than 423, 000 lives by averting deaths from Aids-related illnesses.
AIDS RELATED DEATHS
Nearly 20 years ago HIV was a death sentence but latest data show survival rates are high and people living with HIV have a normal life expectancy if they adhere to medication and lifestyle. Approximately 35,822 people died of Aids in 2015 compared to 51,314 in 2010, a 30 per cent decline at the national level.
The country is making significant strides in reducing transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child