West Pokot County has recorded a rise in HIV and Aids.
Culture, the nomadic way of life of pastoral communities, women giving birth at home and retrogressive practices like female circumcision have dealt a blow to the war against HIV and Aids.
The county is also leading in the number of new infections in the region, according to data from the Health ministry.
The increase has been blamed on poor sensitisation against the scourge and discontinuation of drugs. The infected residents default on medication after migrating with their animals to the neighbouring Uganda in search of water, pasture and food.
According to West Pokot health minister Geoffrey Lipale, more than 6,200 people in the county are estimated to be HIV positive. “Many move and forget to take ARVS. The viral load goes up when one stops taking drugs as they easily infect others,” he said. “We have made an agreement with Uganda and health workers to follow up on them to ensure they continue with treatment,” he said.
Speaking to the HealthyNation, Lipale said more than 2,400 infected people in the county are on treatment, meaning 3,800 stopped taking ARVs after they migrated. “We need to bring them back so that they can continue with the medication,” said Lipale.
He said many people also abandoned ARVs because of the stigma. The official warned against sharing of knives, which exposed children to the virus. “Let’s advise our community to do away with cultural myths, female circumcision and early forced marriages because these are some of the factors that contribute to HIV infections in our county,” said Lipale.
Makutano township is leading in the number of those affected and in new HIV infections, followed by Sigor Town, Chepareria, Konyao and Kacheliba on the Kenya-Uganda border.
“Makutano town has more than 1,000 commercial sex workers and truck drivers from Turkana County rest in the town for a night or two before proceeding to other counties,” he said.
Ampath Plus County Coordinator Mary Kipchumba said: “Many people have not received treatment. Kapenguria hospital has 1,300 HIV and Aids patients. Residents need to come for testing. At the moment, we use the self-testing kit. We put one partner of a discordant couple who is HIV and Aids negative on pre-exposure prophylaxis,” she said.
County Aids and STI coordinator John Lotodo said 80 per cent of mothers with HIV in the county delivered at home increasing mother-to-child transmission rates.
He called upon national and county governments to allocate more funds in the fight against HIV and Aids.