The national theme for this year’s World AIDS Day celebration is ‘End Teenage pregnancy towards eliminating inequalities and new HIV infections.
Economic, cultural, legal and social inequalities stand in the way of the fight against AIDS, which has also been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. The theme ‘End inequalities, End AIDS’ aims to bring on board populations that are disproportionally affected by social injustices and inequalities that make them prone to infection by HIV and increase their chances of developing AIDS.
A 2021 statistical report by UNAIDS shows that about 67% of all PLWHIV are in sub-Saharan Africa. Every week about 5000 women between the ages of 15-24 are infected with HIV. This statistic points to a correlation between the increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies and new HIV infections. Issues such as inaccessibility to water, sex education, contraception and sanitary products act as a catalyst for the new HIV infections and pregnancies among teenage girls in Kenya. Covid 19 threatens to further reverse the gains made in bridging the gaps in these inequalities necessitating quick and bold action from all stakeholders.
While the National theme focuses on ending teenage pregnancies and new HIV infections, the global theme this year is ‘END INEQUALITIES, END AIDS, END PANDEMICS’ with the global target of ending AIDS by 2030. A report from UNAIDS outlines five key elements that need to be addressed to end the inequalities that plague the fight against HIV/AIDS. The first of them is the community-led and community-based infrastructure which prioritizes the need to treat community-based organizations as full partners in the planning, design, budgeting and implementation of pandemic responses. Community-led organizations are also more successful at correctly educating the masses, building sustainable health solutions and reaching populations that are most in need of health care and social services.
Another element needed to strengthen global pandemic prevention, preparedness and response is equitable access to medicine, vaccines and health technologies. Treatment inequalities are evidenced by the inequality in the distribution of Covid 19 vaccines, especially to the global south. Approaches and mechanisms in technology and policy that allow for affordable and accessible health care, need to be strengthened to ensure health care services and goods are available for all populations.
Health workers that are on the frontline in the fight against pandemics also need to be supported as they are often under-resourced and unappreciated. There is a need to provide the requisite tools and resources, both physically and psychologically so that health workers can be best equipped in the fight against HIV/ AIDS and the threat from COVID 19.
The report also centres on human rights in pandemic responses. While social injustices are often sidelined during health crises, human rights issues such as the use of force and the law in the enforcement of public health measures and the gagging of independent civil society that keep governments accountable undermine the progress made in ensuring access to health care especially for vulnerable populations.
The collection, analysis and use of data should be people-centred and not politicized to create a better understanding of the progress on the fight against HIV/AIDS and populations that need better reach.
Tremendous progress has also been made in the prevention and testing of HIV through advanced medicine and self-testing kits. This includes the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which prevent one from acquiring the HIV virus before and after being exposed to it. The HIV self-test kit, or Selfie, has also revolutionized the way HIV testing is done as people can now take the test in private in a quick and easy way. The test kit, which only takes 20 minutes is easily accessible in local chemists at affordable prices.
Even as Kenya joins the world in trying to end AIDS by 2030, a lot still needs to be done to eliminate the inequalities, especially among poor young girls and women to reduce new HIV infection and teenage pregnancy.