Violence in Kenya Reducing Access to Antiretrovirals Among People Living With HIV/AIDS
Thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya have been forced to discontinue their antiretroviral treatment as a result of ongoing political violence throughout the country, the World AIDS Campaign said recently, Inter Press Service reports. About 21,000 people living with the disease have been displaced from their homes since the violence began in December 2007, according to the Kenya-based advocacy group United Civil Society Coalition for AIDS, TB and Malaria.
Many people have not had access to clinics because of the violence or forced relocation, according to the World AIDS Campaign. Some people left their homes without the medical records required to access treatment, while others' documents were lost when their houses were burned. Discontinuing treatment could have severe health implications at an individual level, and it also could lead to an increase in the number of new cases within refugee camps, advocates have said. In addition, HIV/AIDS-related stigma has made some people reluctant to seek available treatment because of fears that they will be ostracized, Allan Ragi, the executive director of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium, said.
"Kenya was making some very real progress in terms of reducing the prevalence rate and bringing their rates of infection down," Stephen Lewis -- former United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa who now directs the group AIDS-Free World -- said, adding, "This is a terrible setback in human terms." Lewis called on the United Nations to provide emergency medical assistance, such as discreet medical shelters within refugee camps that provide HIV/AIDS services. The World Health Organization reported last week that workers in Eldoret, Nakuru and Naivasha -- three towns in Kenya's Rift Valley Province -- were coordinating medical activities in camps and hospitals to evaluate the health conditions. Teams in several other areas have been unable to report for duty for security reasons, according to Inter Press Service.
Some advocates say one solution would be for the United Nations to assist Kenya's HIV/AIDS grassroots organizations, which already have access and relationships with affected populations. KANCO has been collaborating with groups like the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya and the Kenya Network of Women Living with AIDS. Critical next steps for these groups include assessing the health system, operating health centers, drafting press releases and identifying new ways to expand the scope of counseling, Elizabeth Akinyi Osewe, a Kenya program officer for the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, said (Pollock, Inter Press Service, 2/8).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Sunday included a discussion with Filipe Ribeiro, a medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, about how the violence in Kenya is affecting access to medical care (Seabrook, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/10). Audio of the segment is available online.