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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Kenya struggles to combat HIV
By Karen Allen
BBC News

Aids orphans
Kenya has many Aids orphans
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear the brunt of the Aids pandemic but Kenya stands out as one country that appears to be turning the tide.

The proportion of the population infected with HIV/Aids has fallen from 14% in 1997 to around 4% now.

That is good news, but there are huge challenges that lie ahead to ensure those gains are maintained.

The second biggest threat after Aids itself, is the threat of complacency.

One of the biggest gaps that need to be filled is how to deal with the growing numbers of women who are becoming infected with HIV and the 1.1 million children who are now orphans as a result of Aids.

In some of the poorest parts of the capital Nairobi, every fifth house you come to is run entirely by children - all the adults have died

The UN has been deeply critical of national governments' failure to provide adequate care to vulnerable youngsters.

In Kenya just 5% of children orphaned by Aids get any kind of basic support.

In some of the poorest parts of the capital Nairobi, every fifth house you come to is run entirely by children - all the adults have died.

Pilot schemes are being rolled out to try and provide cash subsidies to buy these kids food, education and clothes, but only a handful are benefiting.

No drugs

What makes matters even worse is that for those in need of Aids drugs only a small proportion are actually getting them - about 19% of adults and 5% of children who need them.

Compared to many of its African cousins Kenya has made significant gains - there's been a six fold increase in the numbers receiving anti-retroviral drugs over the past two years - but there are huge logistical, manpower and corruption issues that are holding things back.

Aid agencies report huge stockpiles of anti retroviral drugs languishing in warehouses.

In some cases they lay they beyond their expiry date.

A shortage of trained staff, and understanding about the potency of these drugs along with a lack of testing facilities to enable blood readings to be taken regularly, are used to justify this appalling waste.

No longer can the finger of blame be jabbed solely at the big pharmaceutical companies for impeding access to drugs.

It is a much bigger and more complex issue - Aids has exposed the fragility of so many African countries' health systems.

In Kenya at least Aids is part of the vernacular.

The issue is openly discussed in political circles and the media and condoms are promoted, if not always worn.

Yet there are significant gaps that need to be filled.

Very little is being done about the growing numbers of intravenous drug users who are HIV positive, and virtually nothing is on offer to prevent infection amongst men who have sex with men.

This coupled with a shortage of drugs and testing kits for pregnant women and recent scandals involving alleged corruption in the government's main aids agency, threaten to undermine the substantial gains made so far.


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