Kenyan students have beaten their counterparts from four African countries in a HIV/Aids poster competition, where their drawings came tops.
Patrick Ismael Liewa, whose parents died of the disease when he was six years led contestants from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Swaziland.
The students took part in the President’s emergency plan for Aids relief (Pepfar) World Aids Day poster contest.
Six Kenyans were among the 11 finalists, with Liewa, 20, from Siaya’s Ukwala Boys High School taking the top prize and 20-year-old David Niwewe from Rwanda taking the second prize.
Another Kenyan, 15-year-old Felix Owino Odhiambo, who is a Form One student at Ndenga Secondary School, also in Siaya County, was third overall.
The winners, who were drawn from three age groups between five and 20 years, received prizes at the US embassy in Nairobi Thursday, where ambassador Robert Godec was the chief guest.
Pepfar, an initiative of the US government to assist those living with HIV and Aids, launched the World Aids Day poster contest last year to educate the youth against risky sexual behaviour that could expose them to the virus.
“When I was six years old, I could not tell what had killed my parents, and now that I know, I am willing to make a difference,” Liewa said.
His drawing portrayed an older generation that had been ravaged by the disease contrasted with a younger group that had apparently overcome it, and were living free of the disease due to increased awareness.
Mr Godec said the posters created by the students would be part of a global awareness campaign against HIV and Aids.
He noted that Kenya was “turning the page in combating the disease”, as infections rates had reduced drastically.
He attributed the reduction to scientific breakthroughs in the HIV and Aids war, political commitment and determination in the shared goal that an Aids-free generation could be achieved.
“Make no mistake, your accomplishments are impressive and would be part of a global campaign to combat HIV/Aids, one of the worst pandemics of our time,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Health figures, the country had already achieved targets set for 2015 to reduce new infections by 50 per cent, with people being infected reducing from 166,000 in 2007 to 91,000 in 2012.
However, out of the 1.4 million Kenyans infected, only 620,000 were on anti-retroviral (ARVs) therapy, with Pepfar, the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders working to ensure those out of the loop were brought under medication.
The National Aids Control Council (NACC) deputy director in charge of coordination and support, Dr Sobbe Mulindi, said most patients who tested positive in hospitals failed to go to health centres where they were referred to for medication and counselling.
“We are facing challenges from patients who test positive but fail to go for referrals in hospitals where they are advised to go,” he said.
He said NACC was working with other stakeholders to help close the gap between when patients are diagnosed and the time they are advised to go for referrals to ensure as many of them as possible were put on medication.