Progress made in keeping HIV at bay

While there is still no cure for HIV and Aids since it was first reported in the world, strides have been made in improving the lives of people living with the virus.

According to joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS approximately 1.4 million Kenyans are living with HIV and with efforts to fight the disease, 1.2 million people are on treatment. The World Health Organisation says antiretroviral therapy reduces the viral load in patients to undetectable levels making it hard for them to spread the virus.

Testing and counselling services are now available all over including selftesting in one’s comfort. Jacque Wambui has lived with HIV for 17 years. She has reservations regarding the secret self- test method. Wambui says she’s not sure that would have worked for her when she tested HIV positive. “It took me six hours with the doctor who tested me because I had so many questions. How would self-testing have worked for me then?” she said, adding that on the other hand, when one tests themselves, then it remains strictly confidential.

She was speaking at a Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) science café on HIV prevention, where Professor Kenneth Ngure, a researcher on HIV prevention, shared a raft of products ready for use to prevent HIV infection. All products were discussed at the recent virtual International Aids Conference (IAS 2021) in July.

Professor Ngure said researchers are coming up with a vaginal ring that can hit two birds with one stone by preventing both HIV and pregnancy. The ring are designed to last for three months, making it easier to be accepted by users who may not prefer changing it frequently. He was quick to caution that the ring doesn’t prevent other sexually transmitted transmissions. Professor Ngure also talked about other prevention measures including the oral Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Though findings on the efficacy of HIV prevention commodities are good, governments will be grappling with a number of issues to make the roll out successful in the near future. These include dealing with adherence stigma, barriers of accessibility to health facilities, affordability and ensuring commodities are discreet, especially for users who require consent from their partners/spouses. An example of adherence stigma is avoiding to swallow a pill when with people one may not be comfortable with. Some health facilities may be too far apart and with limited infrastructure.

De-medicalization of the commodities would make it easier for community health workers to deliver them to users at home. Prof Ngure also mentioned integrating commodities with other health services instead of standalone clinics such as the Comprehensive Care Centres will make it easier for people who may not want to be known for the services they are seeking at the health facilities. Researchers are also working reduce the burden of treatment by reducing the frequency of taking medication.

By Ann Mikia

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