RHAY conference to highlight youthful ideas on ending HIV/AIDS menace

Participants at the Reducing HIV in Adolescents and Youth (RHAY) pre-conference. The upcoming RHAY Conference seeks to showcase the young people's ideas on how to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has infected 76m people, resulting in 33m deaths. PHOTO/Courtesy of Rhay Conference.

A new initiative by adolescents and young people on ways to reduce the spread of HIV and manage positive living has been operational in the country over the last six months.

Dubbed “Reducing HIV in Adolescents and Youth” (RHAY) in Eastern & Southern Africa, the initiative will culminate in a Kisumu County conference that seeks to showcase young people’s ideas, innovations and solutions that could see a quicker end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Ministry of Health data collected by the Kenya Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (KENPHIA) 2018 survey indicates that Kenya’s HIV prevalence stands at 4.9 percent.

Statistics also show that some 1.5 m Kenyans are living with the virus, with 1.2 m currently on antiretroviral therapy.

During the previous World Aids Day marked in Nakuru on December 1, 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya had made tremendous progress in slowing down the spread of HIV/AIDS in recent years.

The head of state noted that new infections had declined by 68.4 percent between 2013 and 2021.

“Within the same period, deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS have reduced by 67 percent from 58,446 people in 2013 to 19,486 this year,” said President Kenyatta.

He said the downward trend results from the growing government investment in diagnosing, preventing and managing HIV/AIDS and related illnesses.

“This encouraging performance is attributed to the increase in the number of people on life-saving antiretroviral treatment which rose by 83 percent, from 656,369 in 2013 to 1,199,101 in 2021,” he said.

In 2020, UNICEF reported that the number of children living with HIV in Kenya fell from 180,000 in 2010 to 111,500 in the same year, “partly due to improved access to services, including for more pregnant women.”

The UN body noted the high infection rates among young Kenyans as a cause for concern.

“However, infection rates among young people (15-24 years) remain a concern.

In 2020, they accounted for 35 percent of new infections, with two-thirds of cases among young women,” said the UNICEF update entitled “Protecting children and adolescents from HIV and AIDS and providing care”. 

According to Winnie Ms. Ms. Wadera, one of the conference coordinators, the event is being held with the belief that young people know the best way to overcome the virus.

“RHAY is premised on the belief that Adolescents and Young People (AYP) may be having ideas on how to reduce the burden of HIV among their peers but lack resources to try out their ideas,” says Winnie.

The conference is scheduled to occur from June 20 to 24, 2022, at the Royal Swiss Hotel in Kisumu City.

RHAY comes on the back of disturbing revelations by the government on the new HIV infections and teenage pregnancy cases.

On April 8, 2022, the Ministry of Health released statistics showing that an estimated 98 girls aged between 10 and 19 got infected with HIV every week between January and February 2022.

During the same period, some 2,196 cases of sexual gender-based violence were reported among girls aged 12 to 17 years.

Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache said the ministry was worried about the infection rate.

Mochache acknowledged the country’s youthful population as a national and global asset but singled out the triple threat of adolescent motherhood, new HIV cases among young people, and sexual and gender-based violence as an obstacle to development.

“Kenya has a predominantly young population with 67 percent aged below 29 years,” she said. She further asserted that the triple threat of teenage pregnancy, HIV, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) could no longer be allowed to threaten the career prospects of young girls.

“We cannot nurture their potential if we continue to condone the disruption of education for adolescent girls,” the PS said.

To take advantage of the massive potential among this age group to generate ideas to end the epidemic, Ms. Wadera and other like-minded partners planned a program dubbed 30-U-30 (30 under 30), targeting 30 young innovators and HIV healthcare solution-providers.

“RHAY designed an initiative known as 30-U-30 in which 30 adolescents and young people with promising ideas on how to address the burden of HIV among their peers.

They were provided with seed funding under the 30-U-30 Awards to pilot their ideas,” Ms. Wadera told Scholar Media Africa.

Before the conference, the organizers held a workshop bringing together 152 young people to get their views.

A call for concept proposals was sent out covering the three categories of HIV prevention, care and treatment, advocacy and community engagement.

Conference organizers sought and received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which generously covered the seed funding costs for the young 30-U-30 awardees to practically carry out their ideas.

“We were able to partner with the BMGF and also attended the Lake Region Economic Bloc summit, just to publicize the forthcoming conference and see how the HIV-AIDS elimination agenda could be fitted into the economic outlook and programs for the region,” Ms. Wadera said.

The RHAY secretariat then set up the local, adolescent and young people committees, defined and clustered relevant concepts before attaching them to mentors.

One hundred and thirteen young people drawn from Kisumu, Migori, Siaya Nairobi and Homa Bay Counties were trained to write abstracts and concept proposals.

“Among the unique stories coming out, men for periods by James Omollo assesses the effectiveness of male champions in MHM in Mombasa County.

Pauline Anyango’s combo pack, which includes a water bottle, pill pack, alarm clock, is geared towards encouraging ARV adherence in Kisumu County,” says Ms. Wadera.

Another interesting pair of ideas is a look by Ivy Ochillo into the prevalence of depression and substance abuse among people living with the virus in Kondele, Kisumu County, together with a pilot program by Marylyn Nyabuti entitled “let us do this together,” aimed at improving viral status disclosure among youths living positively in Mbita Sub-County.

Dinah Akinyi and Gerald Owuor are studying the church’s level of influence and whether a combination of the door to door evangelism and prevention awareness can be more effective in getting more people tested and treated.

Another youthful awardee wants to use mobile tech to educate AYP on HIV prevention and treatment.

Ms. Wadera believes it is vital for everyone to test.

“Testing should not just be a basis for recognizing or admitting careless behavior,” she says.

“RHAY is also assessing the effectiveness of HIV testing and counseling,” adds Ms. Wadera.

An early photograph of the HIV virus taken by researcher Charles Dauguet at the Institut Pasteur.

Another area identified for significant improvement was key populations’ access to HIV testing, counseling and treatment.

“One of the things the young researchers found was that transgender women in Kisumu County are at high risk. So they looked into ways to provide a better environment for them,” said Ms. Wadera.

“How do you reduce the risk by ensuring they come in for testing and are adherent to the treatment for those found to be positive? This is one of the questions the young researchers hope to answer by proposing solutions,” she told Scholar Media Africa.

In an April 11, 2022 press briefing on the way forward for HIV programs in Kenya, National Aids Control Council (NACC) chief executive officer, Dr. Ruth Laibon Masha, said there was a need to quickly reinforce prevention measures and cover lost ground due to a slowdown in service provision during the pandemic containment period.

“At the height of the pandemic, people shied away from treatment, but in time we used alternative measures and technology to encourage people to get tested and get treated,” said Dr. Masha.

She said data on the negative effects of the pandemic on HIV healthcare delivery was still being collected, urging stakeholders to move the sector back into full operational capacity quickly.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HIV healthcare will begin to appear more clearly from next year onwards, and we will be able to quantify it authoritatively.

For now, we need to work closely together to move away from the negative effects of the pandemic and improve universal access to HIV testing, counseling and treatment among people living with the virus,” said Dr. Masha.

On his part, UNAIDS Equitable Financing Director Mr. Jaime Azcona believes that key populations should benefit from increased funding for relevant programs and services.

“Our motto for the HIV/AIDS control efforts for the East and Central region is ‘spend more, spend better’, which focuses on effectiveness, efficiency and equity of service provision,” said Mr. Azcona at the fund mobilization forum held in Nairobi between April 11-13, 2022.

“We should increase resources for key populations, adolescent girls and young women, migrants and the marginalized.

It must include mapping and removing all policy, program, structural and financial barriers to quality healthcare access among these groups,” said the UNAIDS official at the Africa Meet, which hopes to kick-start efforts to raise some $30 bn for the next phase of funding for the Global Fund’s campaign to eliminate HIV/AIDS.

According to Ms. Wadera, the research team worked with seasoned researchers, academics, and distinguished experts in HIV research.

“We were so humbled by the willingness of the top researchers like Prof. Buguzi and Dr. Maricianah Onono to work with our young awardees, who have limited academic expertise and science experience, and ensure that their research was properly carried out,” Ms. Wadera told Scholar Media Africa.

She says the conference will feature 300 local and international guests and will feature a mix of presentations from young people and accomplished researchers on solutions for HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, treatment, and elimination.

“We look forward to an exciting mix of presentations from both young people and respected researchers in the field of HIV study to analyze the current service delivery, inspire future researchers and spark debate around the best ways to end the epidemic,” says Ms. Wadera.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Hepatitis C killing thousands despite treatment advances

Previous articleAGRIBUSINESS: Which way coffee sector?
Next articleEmbrace Human Rights Clubs to fix indiscipline in schools


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.