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Post-Election Violence in Kenya Particularly Hard on HIV Patients


The violence that surrounded the disputed elections in Kenya in December proved particularly difficult for people with HIV/AIDS. Like thousands of other Kenyans, many fled for their lives, and, in their cases, they missed drug treatments or ended up living in places that made their conditions worse. Cathy Majtenyi files this report for VOA from Kenya.

At this camp in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, 23-year-old Everlyn Tatu receives the drugs she needs to lead a healthy life.

For one week during the height of the crisis, the HIV-positive mother did not take her anti-retroviral drugs, or ARVs. She says the men who attacked her stole her drugs, and then she was on the run and could not get replacements.

"Because I was not taking ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs], my ear started removing pus. It was too painful. All the time I was crying, I was crying. I discovered that it was because [of the lack of] ARVs. By the time I took ARVs, it stopped," Tatu said.

That week-long interruption represents a dangerous situation, says Dr. Sylvester Kimaiyo. He is program manager in Kenya of the USAID-funded Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS, better known as AMPATH.

Dr. Kimaiyo explains that HIV-positive patients must take ARVs every day or else they will develop a resistance to them, and need more aggressive, more expensive drugs.

Kimayo adds, "Treatment of HIV in this country is not going to be the same again. We are going to get a lot of resistance, which we may never go back again."

Dr. Kimaiyo explains that the majority of his program's 67,000 patients had their treatments interrupted for up to two weeks during the crisis, and that the whereabouts of 4,000 HIV-positive patients is unknown.

In some areas where patients were unable to get their drugs at clinics, clinic personnel attempted to find them. That caused other problems.

Dr. Hosea Some, head of the AMPATH clinic in Burnt Forest, explains., "When we visited them in their homes, taking medicine to their homes, some would run away because of stigma-related issues -- disclosure."

The post-election violence resulted in the deaths of 1,000 people and left as many as 600,000 homeless.

The situation has since stabilized with the signing of a power-sharing deal between the two main contenders, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister- designate Raila Odinga.

But tens of thousands of Kenyans still languish in displaced persons camps across the country.

HIV-positive people in virtually all camps can now easily get their ARVs, but the camps themselves are breeding grounds for opportunistic infections.

"The biggest problem is food. Now that the rains have come, I will be further disturbed by those," said Jeremiah Kimani, who is HIV-positive and suffering from respiratory and stomach problems.

Dr. Kimaiyo says that adding to the difficulties is the relatively high number of HIV positive people in camps.

"Some of these can be attributed to rape. Apart from rape, there is also a lot of sexual activities going on there that are resulting in transmission of HIV/AIDS," he said.

People living with HIV/AIDS say they need stability, peace and normalcy in order to meet the many challenges they face in their lives. They know that will not come easily. Support systems they once depended on are now gone.