If this were a letter, I would address it to all men. But it is not a letter. It will end up on the screens of many. Still, this message will resonate.
It’s a message that National Aids Control Council head Dr Ruth Laibon Masha holds dear. Dr Masha wants men to see themselves as agents of change in the fight against HIV-Aids.
According to Dr Masha, the heightened involvement of men in the fight against the HIV-AIDS epidemic, teenage pregnancies as well as sexual violence against women and girls will add much-needed impetus to existing efforts to contain the menace of new infections.
Dr Masha made the remarks during a Monday, April 11, 2022 press briefing at the ongoing UNAIDS consultative meeting taking place in Nairobi.
The high-level three-day UNAIDS forum that kicked off on April 11, 2022, is looking at the successes and shortfalls of efforts to achieve the 95-95-95 HIV-AIDs targets set in 2014 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
UNAIDS has laid out the goal to diagnose at least 95 per cent of all HIV-positive individuals, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 95 per cent of those diagnosed and achieve viral suppression for 95 of those on treatment by 2030.
The Nairobi consultative and mobilization meeting attended by experts and state officials drawn from East, West and Central Africa is also expected to set the stage for the next cycle of fundraising for the Global Fund. For the coming cycle, the fund targets at least Ksh2 trillion or 17 billion USD for the regions’ war to eliminate most HIV-AIDS cases or collectively reduce them to less than 200,000.
Fight Against HIV-Aids
Speaking on behalf of the Health Ministry Principal Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache, Dr Masha was however quick to emphasize that her call was not made to demonize men in the fight against the HIV epidemic, which saw around 32,000 cases reported locally in 2021.
“We are not saying that all men are bad. Men should however see themselves as change agents in the fight to end cases of teenage pregnancies and new infections,” said Dr Masha.
Dr Masha termed the latest HIV data “a big problem,” adding that the challenge lay in providing education to empower teens and adults in communities to significantly reduce or eliminate new cases.
“Every year we get around 32,000 new infections, with most occurring in people aged 35 and below. Some 61 per cent of these occur among young people aged between 15-and 24 years, and the majority of SGBV cases among children aged between 10-and 17 years old, which is a big problem,” said the NACC chief executive.
On April 8, 2022, the Ministry of Health reported that it handled 45,724 cases of pregnant adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years in the period between January and February 2022.
During the same period, Health Permanent Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache said the country recorded some 2,196 cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) among teens aged between 12 to 17 years.
At least seven out of every 50 or 14 per cent of all births in Kenya are composed of adolescent mothers aged between 15 and 19 years.
Ministry of health statistics further indicates that 63 per cent of pregnancies in this age group are unintended.
According to National Council on Population and Development director Mohammed Sheikh, an estimated 59.3 per cent of girls who are sexually active are not using any form of contraceptives increasing their chances of getting pregnant or even contracting STIs and HIV/AIDS.
PS Mochache further said every week 98 girls aged between 10 and 19 years are infected with HIV.
On her part, Dr Masha said it was no longer acceptable for men to sit back and allow criminals to perpetrate sexual and gender-based violence.
“Men should no longer condone acts of SGBV. It is time they play a role as parents and protective partners for women in the fight to ensure that SGBV cases are not only prevented but reported to the law enforcement agencies as soon as they occur,” said the NACC chief executive.
She is also calling on men to get tested for HIV and ensure they access medication that is freely available at public health facilities.
“Our data shows that more men than women are dying of HIV related complications. It is therefore important for more men to go for testing, and to immediately access treatment if diagnosed as living with the virus,” she said.
Dr Masha said the country had made vital progress in the fight to eliminate stigma but pointed out that was still a major problem for people living with HIV in some low-prevalence areas of the country.