MESHA trains members on mobile journalism as a holistic form of story telling

A media association, they say, is as good as its members.

For an association to prosper and keep on soaring, it must listen to the changing needs of her
members. And so, when members of our association, the Media for Environment, Science,
Health and Agriculture (MESHA), requested, through our very active members only WhatsApp
group for a training on mobile journalism (MOJO) last December, the leadership led by our
Secretary, Aghan Daniel, listened.

“We have to keep on with the demands of a dynamic and ever evolving media landscape, print,
online and radio lest our association becomes a dinosaur,” said Aghan during the opening of the
training held from March 31- April 1, 2022.

The training targeted journalists with a revolutionary approach to telling science stories in
keeping with a fast paced world.

Members, 15 of them, were introduced to the MOJO concept and its elements. Trainees heard
that MOJO is an all around multimedia solo reporting act in which the smartphone serves as a
complete production unit for collecting, editing and disseminating news.

Emmanuel Yegon, a multi-media journalist unpacked MOJO as the most critical tool for
journalists as it helps transcend many challenges facing journalists.

Yegon trained through a highly interactive classroom setting that included lectures, question and
answer sessions as well as practical assignments. He first unpacked MOJO as a form of digital
storytelling where a smartphone is used to collect or create data in audio, images and videos.
The smartphone is further used to edit collected or created content and to disseminate content. As
a full production unit, there is no limit on how far one can go to collect news, features and
relevant information.

He trained journalists on what he termed as a “new workflow for media storytelling where
reporters are trained and equipped for being fully autonomous.”

The first day of training was anchored on two key factors. First, that MOJO enables reporters to
undertake multiple production and content distribution activities using one single device.
Second, the audience have access to the same means of producing content allowing for them to
similarly consume content through mobile devices. As such, MOJO is a cross-platform and
digital innovation approach within the reach of reporters in far flung areas.

Participants discussed storyboarding, or story planning using mobile devices. They were also
taken through elements of a practical MOJO toolkit which includes a quality smartphone, a
microphone, a simple LED light, a power bank and tripod.

The trainees were also taken through the dos and don’ts of MOJO including not zooming while
recording images or collecting videos. Reporters were further taken through tips in image
orientation and direction. They were advised not to mix both landscape and portrait images while
creating content.

The viability of taking photos, videos, audio and graphics, editing and uploading to their
respective newsroom servers were also discussed. The trainer encouraged reporters to own or
have access to a smartphone and to develop skills on MOJO as this is the new frontier of content
creation, production and dissemination.

MOJO, in essence, participants heard, is a solo media production unit. Practical sessions
included how a lone journalist can use a single mobile devise to tell their story, from breaking
news, news features to more timeless human interest stories.

Reporters saw firsthand how they can achieve the greatest value from their smart phones as a
production studio in their pockets. This form of reporting is a cost effective platform, portable
and convenient.

For investigative reporters, it is a safe platform to discreetly collect information without
detection. By the same token, MOJO can help a journalist to stay safe when recording sensitive

MOJO is also flexible and a journalist can produce content at a faster pace. Reporters were also
taken through video recording apps or camera apps that can help them capture quality images.
By further connecting their smartphone to an external microphone, they can record quality
sound. This, Yegon says, is akin to putting an entire production unit in the pocket. More
importantly, an entire newsroom can put these simple device production units in the hands of
more journalists.

“Those lessons were the most interesting thing I had been through in the recent past,” said Rachel
Kibui from Nakuru. Her counterpart from Kitui, in Eastern Kenya, Nzengu Musembi added that
“the sessions were pretty educative. From this training, I can see myself being a competent
mobile journalist.”

By Joyce Chimbi


Biodiversity: Experts urge the public to embrace and protect insects/over 500 edible insects’ species in Africa

Biodiversity champions in Kenya and Africa have called on Kenyans to embrace and protect insects saying that they are very key in maintaining the ecosystem.

The head of Technology Transfer Unit at the International Centre of Insect, physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) Dr.Niassy Saliu said many insects which are playing key roles like pollination, decomposition of nutrient in the soil and also used as food might soon be extinct because they are not protected.

Dr.Niassy said many people have ignored the roles played by insects in the society adding that besides helping in issues of pollination, nutrient decomposition, some insects are used as food for humans. He said insects are very rich in nutrients like protein, zinc among others.

The head of Technology Transfer Unit at the International Centre of Insect, Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) said countries like Europe have embraced insects by even creating laws to protect insects, adding that the majority of the people are eating insects.

Dr.Niassy said such laws protecting insects which have been developed in some countries are also very necessary in Kenya adding that the people in Kenya should value the insects.

In Africa, there are over 500 edible insects while globally over 1900 insects’ species are eaten.

Among the edible insects in Africa include legend termite, spiders, beetles, mantids, flies,plant bugs,wasps;moth/butterflies ,dragonflies  and grasshoppers

By George Juma.

Migori County.

1st MARCH 2022.



How community groups help people living with HIV achieve viral load suppression

Jennifer Atieno, 54, has been living with HIV for the last 12 years.

Ever since she tested positive to the virus and was enrolled for antiretroviral therapy (ART), Atieno has been taking her medication without failure.

When we, a group of journalists from the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) met her last week, she was in a group of other women and men who are also living with HIV in a homestead in Rarieda, Siaya County, in western Kenya.

They formed the group to encourage and advise each other to live positively with the virus. Their group known as Nyakongo Group has 12 members, who meet once every three months.

“In this group we discuss how best we can live and protect ourselves with regard to drugs we all take,” she said.

Before the group was established, Atieno got her medicine from a health facility after every three months. However, since last year when they formed the group she has been able to limit the number of hospital visits and save on transport.

“Each of us contributes Ksh10 and we give to one of us who goes to the facility and bring medicine for the 12 of us. We then agree on whose home we meet then each of us takes their drugs for the three months,” she said.

Nyakongo is one of the Community ART Groups (CAGs) under a programme supported by the Centre for Health Solutions (CHS), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). The NGO has trained peer educators working under the programme.

“The groups should only visit hospitals twice a year because clients are supposed to take home drugs meant for six months,” said Millicent Kanyala, a peer educator at Madiany Sub-county Hospital in Siaya County.

“But they cannot go with the whole six months’ drugs, so they are given drugs for the first three months, then the refills are done after three months.”

CHS allows clients to voluntarily choose a community group they want to belong to. Members of each group has members who are familiar with each other to allow openness and peer interaction without fear of being stigmatised. Each group has a leader and the names and contacts of members are contained in the CAGs’ diary book.

“The diary informs me of when each group is supposed to visit the facility. So, I prepare the drugs well in advance and call their peer leader and tell them the date they will be taking drugs in their community,” said Kanyala.

CAGs are a model for ART distribution, where groups of people living with HIV rotate for clinic visits and drug refills while dispensing drugs to their peers in the community and ensuring peer support.

“The uptake is steadily good and every member wants to join community groups. So far, we have 90 community groups with a total of 822 members. In 2017 we only had 22 groups,” said George Nyakora, adherence counsellor at Madiany Sub-county Hospital.

In 2017 when Madiany Sub-county Hospital launched the programme, viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) suppression was at 84 per cent. Mr Nyakora says this model has since helped the facility to achieve a viral load suppression of 96 per cent as at November 2021.

“Initially in 2017 the suppression cut off point was 1,000 copies/mL, currently it is 400 copies/mL. Anyone who achieves viral load suppression of below 400 copies/mL is considered to be doing well in terms of ART uptake,” said Nyakora.

He said viral load that is more than 400 copies/mL means the immunity level has dropped or is dropping and the likelihood of contracting opportunistic infections is very high.

***A MESHA ( Feature – December 2021


By Tebby Otieno



Telemedicine’s vital role in HIV management during the pandemic

Not only did COVID-19 trigger panic among people living with HIV as the initial fear, anxiety and stigma created scenes reminiscent of when HIV/Aids was declared a national disaster, it also triggered a series of events that could have serious ramifications for them.

HIV experts and activists such as Justus Oluoch based in Kisumu County now decry the great shift from HIV/Aids prevention and response to COVID-19. It all began with the Kenya Medical Research Institute suspending all HIV viral load testing to focus on the coronavirus back in April 2020.

“Granted, the pandemic was unexpected and extremely overwhelming, so something had to give, especially because ours is a cash strapped health infrastructure,” Oluoch, also a clinician working in a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme, explains.

“Machines used to process HIV samples for viral load tests and Gene-Xpert machines used to test tuberculosis (TB), which is a prevalent HIV-defining disease, are being used to process coronavirus samples,” he expounds.

In the last decade, research has shown the extent to which a viral load test is critical for initiating patients newly tested for HIV on treatment and is routinely used in monitoring and management of HIV patients throughout their lives.

Oluoch cautions that at the moment, nationwide, viral load tests cannot be undertaken because of a stock out of viral tubes used to collect samples, also a consequence of the pandemic.

These, among many other challenges, have necessitated the activation of telemedicine to ensure HIV patients continue to receive optimum care and at the same time are protected from COVID-19.

Telemedicine has especially become critical within the context of lockdowns and travel restrictions and, a fear of patents visiting health facilities for fear of contracting COVID-19.

“I lived in Kisumu County when I first got tested and my interactions with nurses and clinicians were very good. I was responding very well to treatment and my viral load was very low or what they call undetectable levels, which means that I could not transmit HIV,” says Francis Onyango*.

Four years ago, Onyango got a job transfer to Nakuru County where he is still based. However, he did not transfer to a facility in Nakuru for fear of stigma in case his HIV status was discovered. Besides, he preferred his primary facility back at home because HIV case management was very good.

And his story is not unique especially among patients who visit health facilities for routine check-ups every one month or every three months, depending on circumstances.
Some patients have faced serious difficulties as lockdowns and travel restrictions have characterised the last 16 months of the pandemic in the country.

“This is why telemedicine has become important in the management of HIV patients. Besides those seeking treatment far from their areas of operations, some counties are expansive and patients rarely seek treatment in their areas of residence.

People move from one sub-county to the neighbouring sub-county in search of treatment because stigma and discrimination is still a reality,” Olouch says.

Anita Nyambura, a consultant laboratory technician with a private hospital in Nakuru County, states that telemedicine is the provision of health services, in this case for people living with HIV through a wide range of platform such as video, phone calls, social media and mobile phone apps designed for this very purposes.

She says that telemedicine is especially popular among adolescents and young people and across age and gender as it minimises clinical visits.

“Patients responding well to treatment are often provided with antiretroviral drugs to last them for a period of three months and in the intervening period, they maintain contact with their health care providers through telemedicine,” Nyambura expounds.

She adds that one of the primary benefits of telemedicine is that it helps retain patients in HIV care, especially those who live far from their primary health facility.
Telemedicine also provides privacy for patients concerned about revelation of their status if they are seen attending a HIV clinic. The system also provides flexibility in terms of booking and scheduling appointments.

“Retaining patients in HIV care and treatment is critical especially because patients lost to follow up or patients who have not visited their primary health facility for more than 30 days and are feared to have stopped treatment, are vulnerable to advanced HIV disease,” says Olouch.

“Advanced HIV disease or progressed HIV patients have a low CD4 count of less than 200. They have a high viral load, meaning that the amount of HIV in their body is very high.

They can easily transmit it and they are extremely vulnerable to diseases such as TB, meningitis and now, we are seeing a type of cancer called Kaposi sarcoma and cervical cancer among women of reproductive age,” he expounds.

Emerging research into the use of telemedicine to manage HIV patients has shown high patient satisfaction rates and a willingness among patients recruited into ongoing studies to continue with the new approach.

Despite emerging data showing that telemedicine is important in providing critical care for HIV patients, the approach is still in its nascent stage but nevertheless gaining pace.

In Kenya, for instance, as of February 2021 and in a move necessitated by the pandemic, the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board Council (KMPDC) had approved 20 hospitals to roll out telemedicine services amid COVID-19 containment measures.

“Telemedicine is not an innovation that you roll out just because you can, it needs regulation and issued approvals are subject to review every three months. Still, the country is yet to enact laws regulating telemedicine but in the meantime, the e-Health guidelines of 2019 provide a guiding framework,” Nyambura observes.

She further says this approach may present a number of challenges especially in the prevention of HIV as it seems to work best among patients already in HIV care and treatment who are responding well to treatment.

Nevertheless, as the pandemic unfolds and with a need to keep HIV patients protected from COVID-19, telemedicine is a critical intervention that simply cannot be ignored, experts emphasise.

*Names changed to protect identity


HIV vaccine: Scientists call for patience as research continues

Days after the most awaited HIV vaccine clinical trials was stopped, researchers say that there is still hope to get another a vaccine which will prevent HIV infection.
“The recent withdrawal a HIV vaccine, HVTN 702, clinical trial is not the end of finding an effective preventive HIV,” two scientists recently told us at a science media café called by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA).

Dr. Kundai Chinyenze, Executive Medical Director, International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), clarified that the HVTN 702 vaccine, also known as Uhambo, was stopped due to its inefficiency in preventing HIV infection.
As journalists, we had somehow become enchanted by this news which we had received a few days earlier. We did actually think that scientists were still on it but were not very sure what researches were going on around us.
In her address to us, together with her colleague, Prof Omu Anzala of KAVI and University of Nairobi,
Dr. Chinyenze dispelled any fears in us in regards to the stopped vaccine clarifying that the study posed no safety concerns to the volunteers who were under trial.
She said that even though HTVN 702 study had failed and disappointed not only researchers but also donors and the community who had hopes in its success, there are a number of other HIV vaccines under trial and scientists are still working tirelessly towards developing vaccines in a bid to find a solution in curbing the infectious disease.
“As much as it is disappointing to have lost money and time, the HVTN 702 was just one among many other HIV vaccine trials that scientists have been working on and so this does not mean that it is the end of vaccine trials,” added Dr. Chinyenze. She observed that there are novel vaccines that have different mechanisms of action that are in earlier phases of testing.
Prof. Omu Anzala of KAVI and the Institute of Clinical Research (ICR) based at the University of Nairobi mentioned that they have learnt a lot following the failed vaccine in South Africa and that here in Kenya, they at KAVI in collaboration with partners in USA and Canada are working on Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) study and HVTN 706, also known as Mosaic.
“We scientists are still in pursuit of a safe and globally effective preventive HIV vaccine and other global efforts underway include HVTN 703 and HVTN 704 and HVTN 705 also known as Imbokodo, whose results are expected later this year 2020,” Prof. Anzala said, adding that there is no need to give up on ever finding an AIDS vaccine.
He however lamented over decline in funding towards research on HIV but was quick to state that this will not stop any efforts they are putting forward in finding a safe and effective safe vaccine.
“As we await an effective vaccine, we must understand the epidemic and establish a tool which will help in finding out who are getting infected and reach out to them,” he observed.

“People who are at risk of HIV infection should make use of PrEP and everyone should embrace test and treat as prevention measures to avoid new infections and spread of the virus – patients who are already positive must adhere to treatment,” said Prof Anzala.
That national Institute of off Allergy and Infectious diseases (NIAID) on February 3, 2020 stopped administration of HVTN 702 vaccine after Independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) found that it was not effective.
The HVTN 702 study funded at USD 130 million was launched in 2016 and it enrolled 5,407 HIV negative volunteers at 14 sites across South Africa. The volunteers randomly received six injections of the investigational vaccine or placebo for over 18 months.



ECHO answers unresolved questions but opens Pandora’s box

In culmination of what has been a sore point of speculation for nearly three decades, it is now a matter of scientific evidence that women using the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera, commonly known as Depo, are not more likely to acquire HIV than their counterparts using implant or the copper-T coil for contraception.

This finding is particularly important for countries in sub-Saharan African countries where Depo, a progestin-only injectable, is widely used and HIV rates are high.

The Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) study, whose results were released on June 13, 2019 in Durban-South Africa, has provided solid evidence on how the three contraceptive methods stack up in relation to a woman’s risk of HIV acquisition.

 “The ECHO study was conducted because of conflicting data. Some observational studies had indicated that using certain hormonal contraceptive methods increased the risk of HIV acquisition. Other studies did not show any such correlation,” said Imeldah Wakhungu, ECHO study coordinator for the Kisumu site.

In 2017, the World Health Organization released a most telling pointer of how dominant these contradictions were by releasing guidelines summarizing that women at risk of HIV can use progestin-only injectable but that they should be informed of possible risk.

The significance of the ECHO study in putting to rest these fears that have dominated public health spaces for years cannot be overestimated. And what cannot be under-estimated is the Pandora’s box that the study has opened.

“ECHO provides the highest quality evidence because women need to know whether certain contraceptives place them at increased risk of acquiring HIV,” said Dr Nelly Mugo during the release of the results.

She explained that three contraceptives in the ECHO study are currently prioritized and are widely used for their efficacy and safety. Ultimately, the study sought to answer one primary public health question and three secondary ones.

“ECHO compared the risk of HIV acquisition by pitting three comparable contraceptives against each other.

Efficacy, safety and continuation or discontinuation were closely monitored,” Dr Mugo explained.

This study started in December 2015 and participants’ follow-up concluded in October 2018.

In the end, the study found that HIV incidence was very high across all three methods and that there was no substantial statistical difference in HIV acquisition across all three methods.

Of note, 397 women out of 7,829 who participated in the study aged 16 through 35 years acquired HIV during study follow up over a period of 18 months.

“This is significant because the women were not profiled for individual risk of HIV acquisition and were offered HIV prevention services including PrEP throughout the study,”

noted Dr Mugo.

The door has been opened for speculations that HIV interventions in Kenya, South Africa, Eswatini and Zambia where the 12 ECHO study sites were set up have failed to stop infections among young women.

Overall, fears are now rife that years of HIV control measures have not borne fruit where they are needed the most and there is a need to reevaluate where women’s risk for HIV exposure lies.

Other HIV experts have raised concerns that the study does not fully answer some key public health questions because it settled on an age group that has been documented for its vulnerability to HIV acquisition.

This vulnerability is based on age, gender and economic status.

Furthermore, this is the age group that is most active sexually.

At the landmark 2018 HIV Prevention, Care and Treatment Scientific Conference where hundreds of participants gathered in Nairobi for over four days, in September 2018, it is the failure to prevent new HIV infections among young women 15 to 24 years that particularly stood out.

At the time, Anthony Chazara, LVCT Health and Youth Programme made a statement that completely resonates with the ECHO study.

“When you talk about new HIV infections, these are people who are negative today and HIV positive tomorrow.

Young people account for about half of these new HIV infections and this is a worrying statistic,” he said.

Adding that: “More than half of all new HIV infections occur among adolescents and young people aged 15 to 24 years which is a sharp rise from 29 percent in 2013.”

In just 18 months, a study that started with 7,829 women testing negative for HIV culminated with 397 testing positive.

It is therefore a matter of scientific fact that young women continue to be disproportionally affected by HIV and that this is not limited to countries where the 12 ECHO sites were set up but across Africa.

Throughout Africa, research shows that HIV infections among young women are double or triple those of their male peers.

In Kenya alone, young women are almost twice as likely to acquire HIV compared to young men.

According to National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP), due to their vulnerability to HIV, young women 15 to 24 years account for 33 percent of the total number of new HIV infections.

In comparison, NASCOP statistics show that young men account for an estimated 16 percent of the new HIV infections.

Experts attribute this high HIV prevalence to gender inequalities, violence against women, biological factors, limited access to health care, education and jobs, and health systems that do not address the needs of young people.

There is also the question of deepseated attitudes that young women have as well as their own perceptions of HIV risk. Surveys have shown that young women are still more fearful of an unplanned pregnancy than HIV.

These fears were astoundingly confirmed by the ECHO study which was summarily characterized by high sexually transmitted infections, high incidences of HIV, low condom uptake and notably low pregnancy rates. Reported pregnancies were mainly among women who had at some point discontinued assigned methods.



Young women’s HIV burden worries experts

As curtains fell on what has been a landmark scientific conference on the prevention, care and treatment of HIV, it was clear that there are many strides made in the right direction.

Notably, the national adult HIV prevalence has been on a steady decline in the last seven years.

According to the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP), “annual new infections are less than a third of what they were in 1993” when the epidemic was at its strongest.

There are now better antiretroviral regimens that are accessible and consequently, more people on treatment inspiring experts to declare that the country may well be on its last mile towards achieving the 95-95-95 dream.

This is essentially a fast track plan to halt the spread of HIV by 2020 and to eventually end the epidemic by 2030.

Initially dubbed the 90-90-90 Aids eradication strategy, the goal is to have 90 percent of people living with HIV tested, 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV put on treatment and 90 percent of those on treatment achieving durable viral suppression.

Based on advances in the treatment and care of HIV, experts are now aiming for 95-95-95.

Nonetheless, experts are alarmed that this success story has been clouded by failure to prevent new infections among young women 15 to 24 years.

“When you talk about new HIV infections, these are people who are negative today and HIV positive tomorrow.

Young people account for about half of these new HIV infections and this is a worrying statistic,” said Anthony Chazara, LVCT Health and Youth Programme.

Dr Lillian Njagi from Kenyatta National Hospital concurs: “More than half of all new HIV infections occurred among adolescents and young people aged 15 to 24 years which is a sharp rise from 29 percent in 2013.”

According to NASCOP’s latest estimates, 1.5 million people were living with HIV with youths accounting for 280,000 of these numbers.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Njagi was particularly concerned that young women continue to be disproportionally affected by HIV.

Across Africa, HIV infections among young women are double or triple those of their male peers. “In Kenya, young women are almost twice as likely to acquire HIV compared to young men,” she emphasized.

Due to their vulnerability to HIV, young women 15 to 24 years account for 33 percent of the total number of new HIV infections. In comparison, NASCOP statistics show that young men account for an estimated 16 percent of the new HIV infections.

Experts attribute this high HIV prevalence to gender inequalities, violence against women, limited access to health care, lack of access to education and jobs, and health systems that do not address the needs of young people. During the entire period of the conference, experts belaboured the fact that the face of HIV has significantly changed.

People living with HIV are no longer as sickly as they used to be. It is therefore now possible for a HIV positive individual with a very high viral load and therefore highly infectious to appear healthy.

This has shaped the attitudes that young women have as well as their own perceptions of being at risk of infections.

Surveys have shown that young women are still more fearful of an unplanned pregnancy than HIV. But there are other factors that have served as obstacles to the prevention of HIV among young women. Experts said

that biology does not help. Teenage girls’ immature genital tract is more prone to abrasions during sex, opening entry points for the virus.

Experts were also quick to clarify that besides sex, the age of the male partner is a defining factor. “The trends are showing that HIV prevalence is high among women aged 15 to 24 and among men aged 35 to 45. This is because of the intergenerational relationships,” Chazara expounded.

The age of the young woman herself is also a factor. Women who had their first sexual encounter before the age of 15 years faced twice the risk of getting infected with HIV.

Importantly, experts belabored the point that interventions are in the pipeline to address the needs of young people in the prevention, care and treatment of HIV.

According to Dr Irene Mukui of NASCOP, “There is a lot of discussion and focus on the youth to figure out how to prevent new HIV infections, to ensure those infected are on treatment and that they have good treatment outcomes once they start taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).” With experts drumming support on increasing awareness and knowledge of HIV prevention among young people, these efforts are bearing fruits.

Nonetheless, more young men than women have demonstrated adequate knowledge of HIV prevention.

In the Kenya Health and Demographic Survey (KDHS) 2008, an estimated 48 percent of young women and 55 percent of young men “demonstrated adequate knowledge of HIV prevention compared to 73 percent of young women and 82 percent of young men in 2014.”

There is still no consensus on teaching young people about HIV and sexual health. This remains a debatable controversial issue with the most recent KDHS 2014 finding that an estimated 40 percent of adults were “against educating young people about condoms” for fear that it might be taken as encouragement for them to have sex.

Such fears and controversies notwithstanding, the figures have spoken and raised the alarm. Without urgent and young people tailored interventions, the HIV prevalence among young people will become the epidemic.



15 years and counting: Researcher’s relentless charge against HIV

Despite the difference in opinion about the statistics on HIV/AIDS in Nyanza, the concern of scientists in the region is much focused on how best to treat and reduce new HIV infections.

Mr. Arthur Ogendo, a Senior Research Officer working for Kenya Medical Research Institute Centre (KEMRI/CDC) in Kisumu, Kenya gives an insight on how they are rolling out the fight against HIV/AIDS even as the search for cure continues. Mr Ogendo has for the last 15 years, dedicated his life to researching on how his own people from Nyanza can participate in eliminating HIV from the face of the earth using people based solutions.

Our member, Christine Ochogo of Radio Nam Lolwe, recently met the ever smiling researcher in Kisumu during our eighth media science café and fielded the following questions to him.

Tell us about yourself.

I am Arthur Ogendo, a senior Research Officer at KEMRI/CDC Kisumu, The organization hosts various research on areas of Malaria, TB, HIV and other infectious diseases. I am a public health specialist currently working in the epidemiology and health research.

Kindly tell us more about the researches you have participated in on HIV.

KEMRI and CDC established a HIV Research Branch in 2000. The branch started with two major studies, one conducted in Asembo, Siaya County and another in Kisumu County both in western Kenya.

The research in Asembo was a Baseline cross sectional survey (BCS) that took a look at HIV infection prevalence and the one in Kisumu was known as Kisumu Breast feeding Study (KiBS) that majored on how to prevent transmission of HIV virus through breast feeding amongst women who are lactating before and after delivery.

What are the finding on the two studies?

In Asembo, the research revealed that there was high prevalence of HIV Infection of 15% as at 2003.

However, this has since reduced due to concerted efforts on behavioral and medical methods being initiated in the region.

In Kisumu the research informed Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) Policy that mothers can be put on triple ARV for PMTCT was safe tolerable and efficacious . ART was administered to mothers before they deliver and continue with the drugs after delivery to protect the child from being infected with HIV virus through breastfeeding.

What other studies have KEMRI/ CDC conducted in relation to HIV?

Between 2010 and 2013, we did a study that looked at whether early initiation of ARVs treatment would reduce the risk of HIV transmission among HIV sero discordant couples. The study was sponsored by US national Institute of Health (NIH).

Participants were placed onto into two groups, one being on survivors whose CD4 cell count was at above 550 per ml and those whose CD4 count was at 250 per ml or below as per the national guidelines on ART initiation at that time (2010).

We found out that those who started Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) early when their CD4 cell count was high, had more health benefits and the risk of cross infecting their partners reduces by 96%. This was considered a scientific breakthrough.

This has now informed the WHO and Government of Kenya’s health ministry to adopt a ‘test and treat’ policy where infected individuals begin ART treatment immediately irrespective of their CD4 count, to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

What about the study on vaccines and drugs?

We are coming up with a number of interventions to help in prevention and further spread of HIV/AIDS which include Voluntary Male Circumcision, use of vaginal ring, pills (Truvada), a pilot vaccine, implants among others.

Currently we are conducting a study on antibody mediated prevention (AMP) study. Vaccines are intended to induce immune responses (antibodies) in the body system but sometimes this is a slow process and may not be effective againstthe HIV virus. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to fight germs in the blood. Therefore we are looking whether infusing antibodies directly into attacking the white blood cells. This

study is targeting about 80 participants who we will be followed up for four to five years.

We in CDC/KEMRI are also focusing on long-term pre- exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for the population of young women. We are looking at superiority between Cabotegravir and Truvada as a PrEP. Carbotegravir drug has been proven to be effective among HIV-negative older women and it was time to investigate its efficacy in young women who are sexually active.

What are some of the challenges you face in the fight against HIV?

Research is very expensive and we as scientists have been relying a lot on donor funding which is now decreasing.

We are now advocating for the County governments to consider allocating more funding to HIV programs to avoid over reliance on donors who are proving to be unreliable due to changing times and priorities.

What role do you think the media can play in the fight against HIV?

The media plays an important role in dissemination of information and we scientist work best in collaboration with them to pass to the masses information on our progress in HIV research.

Why do scientists fear the media?

Scientists are sensitive to misfacts as reported by the media. We are accountable to our partners and collaborators fear being misquoted or misreported on our research be it on HIV or any other subject.

This calls for consistent and responsible journalism to avoid interfering with the progress made so far as well as avoid misrepresentation of scientific facts. We abhor the media to consult with us when not sure as they do articles because fact checking helps readers and listeners to get the correct information.

What is your patting shot?

Everybody is at risk of contracting HIV and the fight against the virus need concerted efforts from all people despite the County or region or country one comes from.

The society needs to be informed more about HIV on prevention and proper management in a bid to have a HIV free generation to come.

Scientists are still searching for a vaccine that may one day prevent infection of HIV/ AIDS infection and they are hopeful that the vaccine will soon be available. In the meantime, everybody has the responsibility to prevent HIV transmission but embracing behavior change and seeking treatment as necessary.

The perception and impression that those who hail from counties or regions where HIV prevalence is low are at less risk of contracting the virus is a misconception.