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Many recoil from HIV test for fear of stigma

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Discrimination remains the main problem undermining the war on HIV-Aids in Kenya even as World Aids Day is marked worldwide.

US Ambassador Robert Godec says stigmatisation is keeping people from coming out to know their status. He called this a threat to the sustainability of the anti-HIV drive.

“More concerted efforts is needed to sustain the gains made in the fight against this scourge, especially focusing on sensitising people to know their status and get treatment,” he said at Line Saba Amref Clinic in Kibra.

They marked 15 years of the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pefpar) programme, which was started by former US President George W. Bush in 2004. Godec said a more proactive focus against the stigma problem will help “confine the disease to the history books in the near future.”

Pefpar country coordinator Tamu Daniels said the US government has spent Sh650 billion on the programme and put about 1.1 million people on life- saving ARV drugs. “Our intervention in the country has been multifaceted, but stigma remains the main challenge,” she said.

Clinician-in-charge Winnie Nzioka said though the stigma has greatly subsided since 2003 when the disease was the leading cause of death in the country, it still hurts the drive. Some pockets of society are afraid of knowing and facing their status, she said.

Other speakers also emphasised the need to have members of society, especially men, tested and those found positive put on therapy. In 2016, the Pefpar programme initiated the test and treatment guidelines, which ensure those found positive are put on therapy immediately at no cost.

Godec said the guidelines have helped increase the number of those tested, educated and put on drugs. He said the programme is here to stay and will continue receiving funding from the US. He was asked whether the more inward-looking foreign policy of the President Donald Trump would hurt the drive.

Daniels said Pefpar has a working agreement with the US Congress to continue spearheading the war on the virus. She urged partners to be proactive so the world can eradicate the disease.

A report by the health sector working group released by the Treasury on Wednesday indicated that the number of those coming out for HIV tests has been on a steady rise over three years — 10.99 million ( 2015-16 ), 13.5 million ( 2016-17 ) and 11.4 million ( 2017-18 ).

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