By Gift Briton

As the world marked International AIDS day under the theme “Equalize,” the latest report reveals that despite making significant progress in combating new AIDS infections and related deaths in the last decade, Kenya is still off-course in eliminating the disease by 2030.

According to the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council 2022 report, new infections have increased in the country, for the first time in a decade, by over 7% from 32,027 in 2020 to 34,540 in 2021 with 36 counties recording increased new HIV infections during the same period.

Even more worrying, more than five in every 10 new infections occurred among adolescents and young adults aged between 15 and 29 years.

Children between the age of zero and 14 years accounted for 15% of new infections, 52% recorded among individuals between 15 and 29 years, 26% for the age group between 30 and 44 years, and individuals with more than 45 years accounted for 7% of the total number of new infections recorded.

Also, pregnancies among children between ages 10 and 14 years increased by more than 28% from 16,956 in 2020 to 21,823 in 2021.

Moreover, AIDS-related deaths also increased during the previous year from 19,486 in 2020 to 22,372 in 2021 with most deaths happening among men who are less likely than women to be diagnosed, start and stay on treatment and reach undetectable viral loads.

As a result, 8,291 men aged 30 years and above died due to AIDs related illnesses compared to 6,923 women in the same age group. Therefore, authorities call on communities to support men’s access to testing and retention to care.

Thirty-five counties recorded an increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths, six of which (Samburu, Isiolo, Turkana, Lamu, Wajir and Vihiga) recorded more than 50% increase in the number of deaths, with Samburu recording the highest number of death rate by up to three-folds.

Commemorating the Day, in Bungoma County, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Health, Nakhumicha Wafula said, “While HIV is no longer a death sentence, prevention of the disease remains the best viable option.”

Wafula noted that like Botswana was pre-validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV, investment and cooperation are key for the country to reach such milestone.

She reiterated that the government was committed to ending the AIDS pandemic while providing the highest attainable standards of health to all Kenyans.

On the other hand, WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus called on countries to implement the organization’s global health sector strategies on HIV, Hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections and implement guidelines on key populations as well as the actions outlined by the new global alliance to end AIDS in children.

“With global solidarity and bold leadership, we can make sure that everyone receives the care they need,” he added.

World AIDS Day presents an opportunity for countries to reaffirm and refocus on their shared commitments to end the disease as a public health threat by 2030.