People living with HIV face issues such as stigmatization because others usually do not want to involve themselves with or even try to understand what they are going through. And by not providing unconditional support, over-dependence on donor funding (whereby if the international donors fail to keep their promise of a constant flow of ARVs), condoms, and self-test kits, we are doomed because there is little to no local manufacturing of these commodities. This is mostly due to socio-economic inequalities such as poverty, which is a critical area to look at being linked to the increase in HIV cases in Kenya. Although with that in mind, Kenya has greatly reduced the new infection rate since most people are aware of the existence of the epidemic. I mean, it has been in our society for many decades now. The first case was reported in the year 1984.
It is very important to ensure that the people at the grassroots, those who are suffering, and those who depend on antiretroviral treatment (ARV) have access to these commodities since it’s a matter of life and death for most of them. A clear example is when HIV drugs were recently stuck at the Mombasa port over disputing thoughts about who was to cater for distribution, which meant that people living with HIV (PLHIV) had to wait to get their required doses.
Imagine the fear, the uncertainty they went through before the issues were squashed. Some even had to postpone the scheduled time they took the drugs to lengthen the duration of uptake. This is a good example of how, if anything curtails the distribution of these commodities, then people living with HIV suffer greatly.
A few friends of mine and I decided to have an early dinner one day to celebrate our friendship; nothing too serious. At the dinner table, as we were enjoying our meals and very candid conversations, in a nervous voice Noah (not his real name) exclaimed. “Guys, I have some news I would like to share.” The table immediately went quiet, and that is when he said: “Guys, I am HIV positive.” Silence prevailed for a few seconds before we all gave him comfort and moral support. In retrospect, even those few seconds that my friends and I went silent were enough for Noah to feel stigmatized.
I should also mention that the courage it took out of him to come to us with such cathartic news is nothing but commendable. He would have easily chosen not to share and moved on in silence. I also believe there are many ways this conversation could have gone, but we must show Noah as much support as he needs. The idea of the stigma that we knew people living with HIV experience, in my opinion, is what led us to react the way we did making sure that he was not going to experience any ostracization whatsoever from his support system.
HIV/Aids is still an urgent global crisis, and the same sentiments trickle down to Kenya as a country. 40 years of experience in the battle with HIV/Aids has provided evidence of what works and what does not work, and what works at the moment is having people living with HIV on treatment the minute they discover the presence of the virus in their system. Noah did, the minute he discovered he was HIV positive. He is currently on daily ARVs at 4 am every morning. In his words, “A small price to pay for my viral load to be on point”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, 69% of adults living with HIV in Kenya were accessing treatment. It is an important point to note that, through increased prevention measures which have adopted PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis), PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), sustained advocacy of condom use, and effective distribution of self-test kits, this combined with organizations such as the National Aids Control Council (NACC), in collaboration with its stakeholders, provide policy and a strategic framework for mobilizing and coordinating resources for the prevention of HIV transmission and provision of care and support to the infected and affected people in Kenya. I can easily state that we are far off in getting the desired results required to say that we are an HIV-free country, the good news is we are on our way.
We first need to fast-track the process of making HIV/Aids a non-health threat by 2030 by ensuring more people are accessing the required medication, recognizing and combining efforts to support PLHIV. They will feel humanized, which is what the Global AIDS Strategy aims to achieve. Reduce inequalities that drive the AIDS epidemic and prioritize people who are not yet accessing life-saving HIV services as they should since it is within their right to do so. Global solidarity and community resilience will save millions of lives and many more lives.