Many Kenyans unaware of being HIV positive
By TABITHA MWANGI
Posted Saturday, June 9 2012 at 14:12
Shocking statistics show that out of every 10 HIV-positive people in Kenya, eight are unaware of their status.
This figure is derived from the 2007 Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) and published in a study by Dr Mary Mwangi of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
KAIS interviewed a representative sample of 15,853 men and women aged between 15 and 64 years from across the country, in a study that involved completing a questionnaire and giving a blood sample for HIV testing.
A total of 1,104 of the 15,853 people in the study tested positive for HIV. Only 16 per cent of 1,104 people that tested positive were aware of their status prior to the KAIS study.
The low HIV status awareness is worrying considering the large number of people living with the virus in the country. In the year following the KAIS study, Kenya conducted its Demographic and Health Survey, which also included HIV testing, and found that 6.3 per cent of adults aged 15-49 were living with HIV.
In that survey, the prevalence of HIV varied among the provinces; Nyanza province had the highest prevalence (14 per cent), followed by Nairobi and Western (seven per cent), Rift Valley and Central (five per cent), Coast and Eastern (four per cent), and North Eastern (one per cent).
The survey shows that, in 2007, two out of every three Kenyans aged 15 to 64 had never been tested for HIV. Half of those who had never been tested said they did not take the test because they perceived themselves to be at low risk of acquiring the virus.
Results from the study show that this was a mistaken belief. In fact, HIV-positive respondents who were unaware of their status were less likely to use condoms and were more likely to be sexually active than those who were aware of their status.
More men perceived themselves to be at a lower risk than women. Among this group that perceived themselves to be at a low risk, about six per cent of women and five per cent of men were HIV-positive. This supports the need for a renewed approach to HIV testing in adults that must be innovative and targeted.
Following the KAIS study, the Ministry of Health and stakeholders have intensified efforts to encourage Kenyans to get tested in an effort to achieve universal access to HIV testing and counselling.
Strategies that have increased the number of Kenyans getting tested include the HIV testing and counselling Rapid Result Initiative in which HIV testing is offered to many people over a period of one to four weeks.
“A Rapid Result Initiative was conducted during the 2010 World Cup and over 1.5 million people were tested in the months of June and July. Additionally, testing is now routinely offered to patients seeking outpatient and inpatient services in health facilities throughout the country regardless of the nature of their illnesses. In the past one year alone, a total of 6.9 million Kenyans have been tested for HIV,” said Dr Dan Koros, HIV testing and counselling technical advisor for CDC.
As more Kenyans find out their HIV status, the country will be better placed to reduce new HIV infections and to provide life-saving antiretroviral treatment to those living with HIV.
Another important strategy involves home-based testing and counselling. The KAIS survey showed that eight out of every 10 study participants who had never had a HIV test were willing to be tested at home by a trained counsellor.
“This suggested to us that home-testing could help improve coverage of HIV testing in Kenya. It also increased the chances of couples being tested and counselled together, which has been a major challenge for the national HIV testing and counselling programme,” said Dr Mwangi.
Door-to-door HIV testing and counselling is best suited for densely populated areas with a high HIV prevalence. With the support of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, home based testing and counselling programmes are now found in Nairobi (Kibera and Mathare slums, Dagoretti and Makadara), Nyanza, lower Eastern Province, North Rift and parts of Western Kenya.
The Ministries of Health through the National AIDS/STI Control Programme, issued a circular with guidelines that recommend sexually active persons aged 15 years and older should get tested once a year.
According to KAIS, about one in four persons testing positive had previously tested negative. This means that past results do not mean that a person knows their current HIV status, especially if they have continued being sexually active.