At least 18.2 percent of new HIV infections recorded in 2022 were from men who have sex with other men (MSM), a new report by the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) has revealed.
NSDCC is a State Corporation in Kenya tasked with managing syndemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
According to the NSDCC’s 2022 report, in the last decade, a total of 61,650 men who engaged in sex with other men accounted for the total number of new HIV infections in Kenya.
Further, the report also reveals that a total of 4,370 persons who identify as transgender were diagnosed with HIV in 2022.
The corporation says that in the ten years, female sex workers accounted for 197,096 new infections.
And being a key population affected by HIV, female sex workers in Kenya account for 29.3% of the total national HIV prevalence rate.
At the same time, 26,673 new HIV infections were recorded among people who inject drugs, the majority being from urban setups led by the coastal counties of Mombasa, Lamu, Kwale and Kilifi.
And with Kenya working towards ensuring that HIV is no longer a threat to public health by 2030, NSDCC, in its latest annual report, revealed that HIV infections among young people in 2022 increased by 7.3% from 2021.
In 2021, Kenya recorded a total of 35,000 new HIV infections and 22,000 AIDS-related deaths.
In 2022, the country witnessed a 68 percent reduction in new HIV infections and a 57 percent reduction in AIDS-related deaths.
Beyond the efforts being put to curb the spread, the reduction can also be attributed to fewer tests for HIV due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Men succumbing more to HIV/AIDS
The council, in its report, also disclosed that in 2022, more men died of HIV/AIDS than women.
Within the period, 8,291 men aged 30 and above lost their lives to HIV/AIDS-related complications, compared to 6,923 women.
Men aged above 30 years accounted for 37 percent of all HIV/AIDS-related deaths within the reporting period of 2022.
The report shows that four people die every hour due to HIV/AIDS-related complications.
NSDCC says that men are less likely to be diagnosed, start, and stay on treatment compared to women.
HIV Prevalence Rates
In terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, the report also revealed that an estimated 883,694 persons living with HIV aged between 35 and 74 years were diagnosed when they were younger.
This is out of the total 1.4 million people living with HIV in Kenya.
In terms of regional spread, 36 out of 47 counties recorded increased new HIV infections between 2021 and 2022.
NSDCC reports that out of the total new infections recorded nationally, fifteen counties accounted for 70 percent of them.
Counties within the Lake region continue to top in new HIV infections and high prevalence rates.
Homa Bay leads the pack of counties with a high prevalence with a 17% prevalence rate, with Kisumu recording a 15% prevalence rate while Migori is at 14%.
Other counties with a high prevalence rate include Mombasa, Busia, Nairobi, and Uasin Gishu, all with a 5% prevalence rate, with Kisii, Vihiga, and Nakuru recording a 4% prevalence rate each.
Nairobi, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Nyeri, Kilifi, Bomet, Kericho, Kiambu, Makueni, and Elgeyo-Marakwet, made progress in the reduction of new HIV infections.
In what appears to be a worrying trend, the report indicates that 42% of new HIV infections in Kenya occur among adolescents and young people aged between 10 and 19.
NSDCC says the young population is fueling the rise in new HIV infections accounting for 52% of the 34,540 new infections recorded in 2021.
Youth between the ages of 15 and 29, which are high school, college, and university students, are the most affected.
The council is attributing the high infection rates among young people to reckless sexual behavior, including unprotected sex among young people and multiple sexual partners.
NSDCC Director Monica Njoroge warns that unless something drastic is done to address the impact of the disease on young people, its effects will be disastrous for the country’s socio-economic future.
“Even with the progress made in reducing infection rates, our young people are still at risk. They form the biggest percentage of all new infections. We, therefore, need to talk to the youth as a country because if we don’t talk, we have no future as a country,” she said.
On daily infection rates, the report reveals that at least four people get infected with HIV every hour, with one being a child.
Kenya has some 1.4 million people living with HIV, with a 4% adult prevalence rate. 78% of people living with HIV in Kenya are on antiretroviral treatment.
Data from the Ministry of Health shows that more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in Kenya are on Antiretroviral therapy.
The report says that 98% of people living with HIV in Kenya know their status, 85% of which are on treatment.
Younger women in Kenya are registering a higher HIV prevalence rate compared to younger men.
The prevalence rate among young women is almost twice that of young men – 2.1% versus 1.2%.
At the same time, 62% of people delayed taking an HIV test because they were worried about what people close to them would say if the result came out positive.
The report shows that 47% of people with HIV who stopped or interrupted treatment did so because they were scared of people finding out they had HIV.
Knowledge of own HIV status is lower among men and boys (88%) than among women and girls (94%).
The National Coordinator of the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK), Nelson Otwoma, says that failure and fear to take HIV tests and stay on drugs are contributing to the high mortality among men infected with the virus.
Otwoma wants society and families to support the access and testing of HIV for men and be part of the retention care of those diagnosed with the virus.
“Most of the AIDS-related deaths in 2021 occurred among men who are less likely than women to be diagnosed, start, and stay on treatment and reach an undetectable viral load. We call on communities to support men’s access to testing retention to care,” Otwoma said.
Kenya has been using oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to contain the spread of HIV, especially new infections.
Kenya was one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to approve the use of oral PrEP.
Further, to contain the spread of the virus in the Lake Region, the Ministry of Health has been spearheading the voluntary male circumcision drive, which has achieved the target of 90% of men and boys undergoing circumcision.
US Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkenga says going by the Ministry of Health data, Kenya will likely eliminate HIV/AIDS by 2030.
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“Based on the data, if we apply ourselves rightly, join forces and commit ourselves to the struggle against HIV/ AAIDS, we will get there. We are on the mountain top, and we see the promised land, which is the end of HIV/AIDS by 2030,” Nkenga said.
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