In Turkana County, there has been an increased HIV infections rate among its residents.
The infection rate has risen to 5.6% infection rate from a 3.2% in 2022, according to the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council. The County Medical Services Chief Officer, Gilchrist Lokoel mentioned that over 20,000 people live with HIV. Among those infected, most of them are found to be women.
One of the contributory factors to the increased infections is that men refuse to take part in VMMC. Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin which is most susceptible to infections. Circumcision is not a rite of passage in Turkana, hence the apprehension from men to take part in VMMC. This however is increasing the rate of infections in the area.
“Reason for increased infections include; lack of awareness, low HIV access to preventive, care and treatment measures, the stigma around HIV and lack of interest to know their status,”mentioned Lokoel.
In Turkana, the number of people infected is over 20,000 but only 10,708 are under Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) which makes it 60% of the infected. In addition to this, only 24.5% of those under ART are diligently taking their medication as prescribed.
Among those infected are adolescents, ages 13-19. Most of them are not interested in knowing their status because of the stigma around being infected. For those that already do, the stigma around the infection contributes to them not taking the ART medication. Without medication, many are succumbing to the virus and spreading it to others around them.
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Mother-to-child HIV infection rate has also been on the rise in the County. Increased to 13.5% this year despite the national average rate being at 9.7%. With more mothers giving birth at home, they are susceptible to infecting their babies. The hospitals have therefore urged mothers to have hospital deliveries. They are able to access better healthcare to prevent transmission of infection to the child.
Mother-to-child transmission can happen either during pregnancy, delivery or while breastfeeding. The hospitals have started prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services among HIV-infected pregnant women.
In addition to this, the rate of infection among the youth has also been on the rise. Youths are more terrified of getting pregnant than contracting the virus. In response to this, the county seeks to increase awareness regarding HIV infections, prevention and treatment procedures to follow.