Nairobi, Kenya, Jan 18 (IPS) – The disastrous warning came in 2019 via an anonymous message on her mobile phone to stay away from a man she met on social media.
At the age of 18 and just out of high school, * Nicole Kisi had a relationship with a 45-year-old businessman.
“It simply came to our notice then. He was said to be careful because of a rumor that the man’s wife died of HIV / AIDS. He was shocked. I forwarded the message to my boyfriend, and he told me that the person was jealous of him because he is successful, “he told IPS.
“It seemed healthy to me and I thought the message came from one of those jealous people.”
A year after the relationship, Kisi came in and out of the hospitals. At first, she was treated for severe malaria, but her condition only got worse. Finally, her HIV status was discovered.
As with other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, government data show that AIDS is the leading cause of death and morbidity among adolescents and young people in Kenya.
Over the past decade, Africa’s fight against HIV has seen new HIV infections reduced by 43% and almost half of AIDS-related deaths.
However, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) shows that the continent is not on track to end AIDS by 2030 because key elimination goals have not been met.
“There are 18,004 new infections and 2,797 deaths among adolescents aged 10 to 19 annually in Kenya. Overall, 40% of new HIV infections in the country occur among adolescents and young people between the ages of 15 and 24,” he says. Damaris Owuor, an Nairobi-based HIV activist.
“Preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is very successful and we are therefore very concerned about the risk of HIV that our young people now face due to intergenerational sex.”
More than 90 percent of HIV infections in children are the result of mother-to-child transmission, says Elisha Arunga Odoyo, a clinical offering within the PMTCT program at Homabay County Referral Hospital.
UNAIDS data show that East and South Africa has significantly reduced this risk. Between 2010 and 2018, new HIV infections among children aged 0-14 fell from 1.1 million to 84,000 across the region.
Odoyo points to Kenya’s Homabay County. Despite having the highest HIV prevalence in Kenya at 20.7%, more than four times the national prevalence of 4.8%, mother-to-child transmission of HIV fell from 16.8% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019.
Owuor says poor sexual and reproductive health education and lack of access to adolescent-friendly reproductive health services are the main culprits.
In addition, UNICEF research shows that transactional and age-disaggregated sex, peer pressure, stigma and discrimination, harmful social and gender norms, and unequal power dynamics contribute significantly to number of adolescents living with HIV.
Kenya’s latest population and health survey shows that three out of 10 girls have sex before the age of 15 and that one in five girls, aged 15 and 19, is pregnant or already a mother.
Still, Owuor tells IPS that significant progress is needed to address adolescents’ risk of acquiring HIV. Girls account for six out of seven new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.
“My friends and I were more concerned about getting pregnant than HIV. When you’re young, you think of HIV as something that happens to older people. None of my friends have ever bought a condom. but we bought P2 (the morning after pill) so many times for fear of getting pregnant, ”she tells IPS.
UNAIDS research shows that adolescents and mothers are still being disproportionately affected by HIV and lagging behind in the global AIDS response.
In this context, Owuor warns that the increase in youth could significantly increase new HIV infections without a specific approach to increasing access to HIV prevention, HIV testing, care and treatment among adolescents and teens.
To reach the 2030 global goal of ending AIDS, a World Health Organization (WHO) analysis indicates that by 2025, 95 percent of all people living with HIV know their condition. 95 percent of those who know their condition are in treatment and 95 percent of those in treatment have a suppressed viral load.
In Africa, 87% of people living with HIV knew about their condition. Of these, 77% were in treatment and 68% had a low viral load, according to statistics published in December 2021.
Only nine countries, including Kenya, Botswana, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe, were on track to reach the 95-95-95 highway target to end AIDS.
However, Owuor says that while progress has been commendable, the ambitious goal will not be achieved if crucial HIV / AIDS elimination goals are lost among adolescents.
According to the Kenyan Ministry of Health, access to and adoption of HIV testing and counseling by adolescents is significantly low, as is the coverage of antiretroviral therapy compared to any other age group of people living with it. with HIV.
UNICEF research finds that while there is a growing awareness of HIV in general, adolescents do not yet have a thorough knowledge of HIV and condom use remains low in the age group.
“Young people are among the least tested and, without specific intervention, do not adhere to treatment and are often not virally suppressed. A high viral load, or the amount of HIV in the blood, increases the risk of a teen transmitting the virus, so we have to break this cycle, “says Owuor.
Kisi agrees, adding that a teenager’s journey to accept a positive HIV outcome is a long road marked by denial, anger, and bitterness.
“Seeing your friends live a carefree life while you die inside is very painful. The biggest problem is that you lose hope and start believing that there is no future,” he says.
“Even today, it’s hard for me to accept my status. I recently joined a peer support group and I’m smiling again. I feel more hopeful than ever.”
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