SGR to blame for increased HIV prevalence in Taita Taveta, NACC says

Standard Gauge Railway construction at Tsavo bridge. PHOTO/FILE
Standard Gauge Railway construction at Tsavo bridge. PHOTO/FILE

The national aids control council has sounded the alarm over the rise in HIV prevalence at Taita Taveta.

Julius Koome, director NACC Coast region, attributed the worrying figures to the ongoing construction of the Standard Gauge Railway.

He said that the prevalence has gone higher compared to the region's population, also attributed to the construction of Taveta-Voi road which has caused the migration of persons into the county.

HIV/Aids prevalence in Taita Taveta county now stands at 6.1 per cent out of a population of 400,000.

Koome said 62 per cent of people living with the disease are women, with the remaining portion being shared between men and children.

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He said the high numbers of sex workers streaming into the area following the multi-billion shilling project has contributed at least 65 per cent new infections reported lately.

The health worker noted that the county is a transit center for long-distance drivers from the port of Mombasa.

"Sex workers mostly get infected by long-distance drivers and later render their services to locals thus raising the transmission rates," said Koome.

The NACC report of 2014 indicates that Taita Taveta county has the third highest numbers of sex workers after Mombasa and Kilifi.

He said the persons coming into the county are most likely to get sexual pleasures from locals who end up infecting them.

Koome further stated that the Taveta-Tanzania border has also impacted the increasing numbers of persons living with HIV/Aids.

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He noted that a research conducted by the agency recently indicated that mining has further fueled the spread of the disease.

The NACC official said miners undergo rituals which involve sexual intercourse before being allowed to work in the mines.

"Some ask for sexual favors before offering manual jobs to female locals," he said.

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He said the most affected areas were Voi, Mwatate and Taveta while Wundanyi has been spared due to its conservative nature.

Koome said they were happy to report that the affected persons are now accepting their condition and therefore taking drugs.

"This is contrary to previous days where residents believed in faith healing - where one believed in prayers without medication," he said.

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Taib Abdulrahman, an anti-Aids activist, said they have opened a center in Voi which is working towards reducing the rates of infection among the residents.

"We are worried about the current situation and we ask donors and the national government to come and assist in curbing the situation before it gets worse," said Abdulrahman.