Kenya acts to stem cross-border HIV spread - Daily Nation

Kenya acts to stem cross-border HIV spread

Monday March 15 2010

Kenyans march in a procession in Eldoret town to mark the World Aids Day on December 1, 2009.  Kenya’s fight against the spread of HIV/Aids among people crossing into its borders is on course, a new report by a regional body says. Photo/JARED NYATAYA

Kenyans march in a procession in Eldoret town to mark the World Aids Day on December 1, 2009. Kenya’s fight against the spread of HIV/Aids among people crossing into its borders is on course, a new report by a regional body says. Photo/JARED NYATAYA  

By SAMMY CHEBOI

Kenya’s fight against the spread of HIV/Aids among people crossing into its borders is on course, a new report by a regional body says.

With the prevalence rate of HIV infection among migrant and displaced populations about 20 per cent, Kenya has successfully selected three hotspots and completed a rapid assessment survey aimed at taming the spread of the disease, according to a draft report by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad).

The fact that thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn neighbouring countries find the country a safe destination, as well as the hundreds of truck drivers passing through the highways, makes Kenya a high risk country in terms of HIV infections associated with mobile and displaced populations.

The country has identified Malaba, Taita Taveta and Lokichogio as its key areas that urgently require increased focus in checking against transnational spread of the virus. This in addition to the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

The Horn of Africa region has been hard hit by the HIV/Aids pandemic and the countries have established national strategies as well as HIV/Aids control programmes to combat the spread of the scourge.

Motivated by a shared readiness to develop inter-country collaboration to fight epidemics, the Ministerial Committee on Health and HIV/Aids created the Igad Regional HIV/Aids Partnership Program (IRAPP) in 2007 and is supported by the World Bank.

The 2009 draft IRAPP report says the country has successfully harmonized its sexually transmitted infections programme with those of regional countries, thereby enhancing coordinated response to the problem of cross border spread of the pandemic.

The report, currently under discussion in Nairobi by Igad technical working group that includes heads of national Aids control councils, notes that all six countries have made significant steps towards harmonising HIV/Aids protocols and guidelines through national workshops for major stakeholders.

“Under promotion of inter-country collaboration, two countries, Kenya and Uganda held cross border meetings at the two hotspots of Malaba and Busia,” says the report.

Hotspots are areas with high human movement located along the borders of countries and which are associated with high HIV infections.

Under the Sh15 billion-four-year IRAPP, 24 hotspots are covered under the cross-border and mobile population programme and another seven refugee and internally displaced people’s camps.

Last year, says the report, the number of those seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in Dadaab camps was 4,166; those who received VCT counselling more than quadrupled (from 1,103 to 6,861). Also, 860 peer educators were trained and 261,349 condoms distributed which was above the target of 235,354 set for 2009.

“Camps for the displaced people, refugees crossing points and truck drivers’ stopovers are high risk areas in as far as HIV/Aids spread is concerned. These are the places we are focusing on as regional governments,” said David Apuuli, the director general of Uganda Aids Commission, on Monday during a briefing at the Laico Regency Hotel, Nairobi.

The IRAPP hopes to contribute to the reduction of HIV infections and to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the epidemic in the Igad region by improving regional collaboration and implementing interventions that add value to the efforts of each individual country.

Also, the project seeks to establish a referral system between sites of Igad Member States so as to provide service continuity to the targeted population, based on harmonised treatment guidelines for HIV/Aids/STIs.

“Many times, rape as a weapon during conflict is rampant and this increases the vulnerability of women to HIV infection. The programme provides for services targeted at such women fleeing the violence as well as continuity for those on treatment,” said Dr Patterson Njogu, regional HIV/Aids coordinator for United Nations High Commission for Refugees.