- Kenya’s goal is to get to less than five per cent and be certified to have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
- Infections can be eliminated if mothers adhere to HIV medication during pregnancy and babies are put on ARVs right after birth.
Kenya’s goal of eliminating the transmission of HIV to babies will take longer to achieve because of the worsening situation in 21 counties, including Nairobi.
More newborns in these counties were born or infected with the virus last year, compared with 2021, the National Syndemic Disease Control Council says in its latest HIV estimates released this month.
Such infections can be eliminated if mothers adhere to HIV medication during pregnancy and babies are put on ARVs right after birth.
“National mother-to-child transmission rate averages at 8.6 per cent (nationally) with significant geographical disparity; range from more than 5 per cent to 38.8 per cent,” the council said.
NSDCC said the situation is worse in four counties where up to 38 per cent of babies are getting infected.
The situation is worst in Mandera county where 38 per cent of babies born to HIV-positive mothers were also positive.
It is followed by Wajir at 29.6 per cent, Samburu 25.7 per cent and Narok 21.1 per cent.
Women living with HIV who do not receive antiretroviral (ARV) medicine have a 15–45 per cent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. That risk drops to less than five per cent if treatment is given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when transmission can occur.
Kenya’s goal is to get to less than five per cent and be certified to have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“Despite the gains in HIV response, Kenya is yet to meet the less than five per cent target on elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV,” said NSDCC adolescent and youth programme officer Janet Musimbi.
The council will next week hold the national HIV conference known as the Maisha Conference where the findings will be discussed.
In high-income countries, almost universal early ART coverage amongst HIV-positive pregnant women and avoiding breastfeeding have reduced MTCT risk to less than one per cent.
In most low- and middle-income countries, which are mostly breastfeeding countries, the aggregate final MTCT at breastfeeding cessation is more than five per cent.
The 21 high burden countries are Mombasa, Lamu, Taita Taveta, Wajir, Mandera, Kitui, Machakos, Nyeri, Murang’a, Samburu, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Narok, Kericho, Vihiga, Busia, Kisii, Nyamira and Nairobi.
The council also said it was concerned with the rising cases of new HIV infections among adolescents aged below 24 years.
Out of the 427 new infections that are recorded in the country every week, 62 occur among adolescents aged 10 to 19 years, the council said.
The country records 61 new HIV infections every day.
The same age group records 23 HIV deaths every week.
The 2023 HIV estimates show that even though Kenya is on track towards the reduction of new HIV infections, the infections are increasing in previously low-burden counties.
“If we do not target them, if we don’t get interventions for them and we don’t take care, we will reach a point where our population will be majorly the older population,” Musimbi said.
“We are concerned about the adolescents and the young people simply because there are things that affect them that put them at risk of HIV and AIDS.”
NSDCC said the adolescents are battling with the overlapping challenge of new HIV infections, unintended pregnancies, and sexual and gender-based violence.
The triple threat among adolescents and young women aged between 10 and 19 years has become a driver of HIV infections due to sexual risk and vulnerability.