Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Airtime tax to fight Aids scourge

By NATION Team

A new tax on cellphone airtime and air travel could soon be introduced to finance HIV/Aids projects in the country if a proposal by a UN official is adopted.

UNAids executive director Michel Sidibe on Tuesday urged the government to develop strategies to domestic sources of money to cater for the initiatives. “Certainly, Kenya is at an enviable level of international support for its Aids programmes, yet I hope you will develop a roadmap for sustainable financing,” he said during the launch of Kenya’s third National Aids Strategic Plan.

The plan says Kenya will need some Sh267 billion to halve the number of new HIV infections and reduce Aids-related deaths in the next four years. The bulk of this money may be spent on reaching out to couples or Kenyans in steady relationships who account for almost half of the 166,000 new infections annually.

Others targeted, by the Kenya National Aids Strategic Plan 2009/10-2012/13, are men and women who engage in casual sex, prostitutes, homosexuals, prisoners and abusers of drugs.

The strategic plan is the third since Aids was declared a national disaster at the turn of the century. Since then, the country has seen HIV/Aids prevalence rates drop from over 14 per cent to about 7.4 per cent in 2007. However, there is still worry on the increasing number of children born with Aids and how to effectively tackle mother-to-child transmission in rural areas.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga applauded the decreased infections in the country and attributed the trend to the concerted efforts of the government, civil society, non-governmental organisations.

Live longer

“Kenyans should live longer, happier and more productive lives by getting information on the prevention and management of HIV/Aids,” he said. He pointed out that the Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision programme as a venture aimed at reducing HIV infection in the country. The programme has performed up to 75,000 cuts since its launch in 2008.

Public Health minister Beth Mugo cited women and children as the most affected groups, adding that poverty was the main reason for increased infections. “Over 100,000 HIV positive women get pregnant every year and access HIV services in over 4,000 facilities throughout the country,” Mrs Mugo said, adding that Kenya looked forward to the elimination of infant infections.

Earlier at Harambee House, Mr Sidibe met with President Kibaki who reiterated the government’s support in fighting the disease and urged the general public to participate in advocacy campaigns. “Government can help in the fight, but individuals must continue to make deliberate choices to keep the disease at bay by being responsible,’’ said the President.

Reports by Joy Wanja, Gatonye Gathura, David Njagi and Jeff Otieno

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