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HIV Crisis – Millions of Lives at Risk Over Shortage of Drugs

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Wednesday, November 10th, 2021
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For about eight months, HIV-positive mothers have been unable to know the status of their newborns because of the unavailability of early infant diagnosis kits.

Expectant mothers also risk giving birth to HIV-positive babies because most of them have been missing prophylaxis during ante-natal care.

In the same vein, Kenyans who would want to know their status and move to more superior antiretroviral drugs will have to wait a little longer.

This is because most of the facilities lack rapid testing kits filter papers for viral load testing, putting the lives of millions of Kenyans at risk.

HIV can be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), which is also known as ‘vertical transmission, accounts for the vast majority of infections in children up to 14 years.

If a pregnant woman is living with HIV, the likelihood of the virus passing from mother to child is 15 to 45 per cent. Antiretroviral treatment (ART) and other interventions can reduce this risk to below five per cent.

“It’s sad that every day, I have to turn away patients who come for testing. We sometimes help with the delivery of babies from HIV-positive mothers without prophylaxis to protect them. After six months, I cannot test the status of this child because there are no kits,” says a nurse in Homa Bay County.

“For six months, we’ve not been testing for HIV; we’ve not been giving them drugs they are supposed to take for three months because they are not enough for all. Instead, we give for three weeks at most.”

Since March, nurses have not been able to test children or check the viral load in patients from February.

This puts the country in a crisis and at risk of new infections.

Data from the National Aids Control Council on Monday showed that the country has recorded 32, 000 new infections this year, a reduction of 10,000 from last year’s 42,000.

Teenagers between the ages of 10 to 19 recorded about 5,492 new infections and 1,473 HIV-related deaths between January and October.

In March, Kenya borrowed ARVs from Uganda and Nigeria. However, none of the countries had the kits in store.

This has since prompted a petition by people living with HIV and civil society allies to the National Assembly and appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta to step in and help sort out the problem.

“We’ve been in talks with various organisations in the government that are concerned with our welfare and they are telling us that the matter is beyond them, several emails and letters sent to Mr Mutahi Kagwe, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health, have never been responded to yet we continue to suffer,” states the petition.

MPs have been asked to investigate why there have been persistent shortages of HIV prevention, treatment, and care commodities and how the same will be addressed once and for all.

The PLHIV community and other civil society organisations also want members of the National Assembly to make and/or cause urgent interventions leading to positive action in the realisation of the right to health of adults and children living with HIV.

The community is appealing to the President to remove taxation on health commodities and products, especially donations and grants.

“We want President Uhuru Kenyatta to direct the National Treasury to facilitate an emergency procurement for urgently needed HIV medicines and supplies among other things providing the required funds and waiving the cumbersome importation taxes,” states the petition.

“Also, the President urgently directs the relevant government agencies to utilise the waiver provision of the procurement law to speed up the processes as demanded by this emergency. People with HIV cannot wait for a nine-month procurement process to play out when critical medicines and commodities are out of stock.

“This year; 2021 will go down in history as one of the worst years for people living with HIV, if it is not low stocks of ARVs; then it is no stocks for laboratory reagents to monitor viral load and test HIV among HIV-exposed infants. It is a bad year made worse with the fear and anxiety brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Dr Andrew Mulwa, Head Directorate Preventive and Promotive at the Ministry of Health, said the unavailability of drugs was caused by the disruption of the global supply chain.

“Kemsa made an order in March but has since not been delivered, we are following up on this and I am hopeful that in the next two weeks, we are going to have them,” he said.

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