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HIV infections war shifts to girls aged 15 to 24 years




Kenya has the largest number of people living with HIV/Aids after South Africa at 1.5 million. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s quest to stop the spread of HIV is facing a new demographics challenge after it was found that girls aged between 15 and 24 now account for the highest number of new infections.

The 2018 Kenya Aids Response Progress Report shows that young women aged between 15 and 24 now account for one third of the 44,789 new HIV adult infections.

The National Aids Control Council (NACC) report shows that total new infections stand at 52,767 annually, including 7,978 children, meaning 14,929 girls aged between 15 and 24 were infected in 2017 alone.

Joshua Gitonga the head of Monitoring and Evaluation at NACC, reckons the rapid erosion of moral and social skills among the affected age group is to blame for the wild spread, especially in the cities where young women are dating older men for financial gain.

“Trans-generational sex that happens when girls go for older partners is something that cannot be overlooked,” he said.

Among young people between 15 and 24 years, Nairobi had the highest number of new infections at 2,587 followed by Homa Bay (1,852), Siaya (1,641), Kisumu (1,630) and Migori (1,143).

Mr Gitonga said the youth, especially young females, are not properly empowered to use available prevention methods.

“This target group lacks comprehensive knowledge of HIV and do not have access to prevention methods because the majority rely on guardians for all their health issues,” said Mr Gitonga.

Early sexual activity is known to increase the period of time adolescents are exposed to the risk of sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies.

The report, which also collates data among children and adults, says that new infections among those aged 15 years dropped from 48,108 in 2016 to 44,789 in 2017.

New infections among females are at 27,233 while that of males stand at 17,556.

Nairobi (2,587), Homa Bay (1,852), Siaya (1,641), Kisumu (1,630), Migori (1,143), Kiambu (730), Kakamega (596) and Mombasa (562), make the list of counties where the rate of infection is highest and together account for 61 percent of all new infections among youth aged between 15 and 24 years.

Children aged below 14 years constitute 7,978 of new infections, a slight increase from 7,105 in 2016. Kenya aims to reduce HIV prevalence among this age group to five percent of total new infections.

Counties with high HIV infections among children aged below 14 are Homa Bay (700), Nairobi (660), Siaya (620), Kisumu (616), Kakamega (437), Migori (432), Nakuru (325), and Busia (318).

In absolute numbers, new HIV infections among all age groups declined from 77,200 in 2010 to 52,800 in 2017, indicating a 32 percent decline in the number of new annual HIV infections at the national level in spite of population growth.

NACC says the improvement is the result of increased and better campaigns following the increase in total expenditure from Sh121 billion in 2016/2017 from Sh73 billion in 2015/2016.

There was also a decline in the total number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Kenya — estimated at 1.5 million in 2017 — including 105,200 children.

Mr Gitonga said that although the rate of new infections has been falling in recent years it is still too slow.