Despite the tremendous medical gains made in the fight against HIV and Aids, women in Kenya continue to be disproportionately affected. According to UNAids, women are disproportionately affected by HIV due to harmful traditional practices, unequal cultural and socio-economic statuses, intimate partner violence, and poor individual and societal access to medical services, management and counselling. UNAids further reports that the number of women with HIV is higher than men, with HIV infections among young women aged 15 and 24 years being double those of men in the same age bracket. However, the Kenya HIV Estimates Report 2018 indicates a decline in the HIV incidence among adults aged 15 to 49, falling from 0.35 per cent in 2010 to 0.19 per cent in 2017. In 2016, out of the 1.6 million people with HIV in Kenya about 910,000 of them were women. On the flipside, women with HIV in Kenya today enjoy a longer life-expectancy than in previous years; sadly they also have to contend with the risk of early menopause.
A study conducted by the North American Menopause Society (Nams) reveals that women with HIV are likely to hit menopause three years earlier than women without HIV. “The higher rates of early and premature menopause are further exacerbated if the woman with HIV also has Hepatitis C (a disease that causes inflammation and infection of the liver) co-infections,” Dr Stephanie Faubion, the medical director at NAMS, said. Menopause refers to the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and is diagnosed if the woman goes at least six months without a menstrual period.
Dr. Beth Wahito, an obstetrician gynecologist in Nairobi, disputes this claim and asserts that women reach menopause at different times regardless of their HIV status. Another study published on menopause in the medical journal, National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), suggests that by age 55, the average Kenyan woman is expected to be menopausal.
Dr Faubion cautions that medical practitioners should be aware of this possibility to help women with HIV. “Appropriate counselling and management for women with HIV must be done, given the adverse consequences that are associated with early oestrogen deprivation,” she said.