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Updated HIV Treatment Guidelines Pose Some Challenges for Kenya

Kenya Faces Challenges in Meeting New HIV Treatment Guidelines
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Kenya faces some challenges in implementing new guideline standards for HIV treatment recently announced by the World Health Organization.

But HIV patients and others suggest there are still stigmas attached to the disease - both in getting tested for the virus and in taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs as part of the treatment.

“Some of the challenges include stigma and discrimination, lack of meaningful involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS. The government has not yet sensitized the community on the new guidelines," said Edith Nyambutha, a community health worker.

Living with HIV

Jacinta Wangeci, a single mother of two, has been living with HIV for 11 years and takes a daily dose of antiretroviral medication, which slows the advance of the disease.

Wangeci gets her medication for free at a local health center on the outskirts of Nairobi, but still feels a stigma attached to taking ARVs.

"When you’re taking these drugs, whether you have food or not you have to take them at the right time. The second challenge is that there is that stigma, where you have a visitor in your house and your time of taking the drugs has come, but you fear for that person to know whether you are HIV or not," she said.

In September, the WHO revised its HIV guidelines to recommend that anyone who tests positive for the virus be given antiretroviral drugs immediately -- a significant departure from the U.N. agency's current recommendation that doctors wait to treat some people with HIV until their immune systems suggested they were getting sick.

The National Aids Control Council said there are approximately 1.6 million people confirmed to be living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, but only about half are on ARV therapy.

The new WHO guidelines mean the number of people in Kenya who need ARV's could at least double.

FILE - Ruth Munyao, a pharmacist, dispenses antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at the Mater Hospital in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 10, 2015.
FILE - Ruth Munyao, a pharmacist, dispenses antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at the Mater Hospital in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 10, 2015.

Authorities think there could as many as a half-million more HIV-positive people in Kenya who don't know it but could benefit from early treatment. However, getting people to be tested for the disease remains an issue.

Digital app

To meet the new guidelines, the government launched a new digital application called the “situation room” to better coordinate response efforts.

Users of the application can tell how many people are infected with HIV/AIDS in an area, how many are on medication, and what amount of medicine is available in the local health facility.

However, the government said the supply of ARV is not a problem.

“We have a minimum of six months’ worth of ARVs for people who are taking medicine in the country at any one time, and we distribute medicines to the facility on a monthly basis," said Dr. Irene Mukui, HIV treatment expert at the National AIDS and STI Control Program.