FEWER PEOPLE TESTED

HIV cases rose among sex workers during lockdown - report

Higher cases among MSM also reported, but experts say this is not unusual.

In Summary

•In April, only less than 10,000 sex workers were tested, but the positivity was higher than in June when about 20,000 were tested.

• The rates are not alarming because past surveillance studies among these key populations have documented an actual HIV prevalence of about 18 per cent among MSM and 12 per cent in FSW.

HIV testing process
HIV testing process
Image: FILE

Researchers are probing a surprising increase in HIV positivity in key populations tested during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

A report from the National Aids & STI Control Programme (Nascop) shows the positivity was highest in April and May, despite the few people tested.

Among female sex workers, positivity was 2.4 per cent in April and 2.2 per cent in May. These were the highest levels between January and June last year.

“HIV positivity was highest during the critical Covid-19 months of April and May despite less number tested,” Nascop says in its report.

For instance, in April, only less than 10,000 sex workers were tested, but the positivity was higher than in June when about 20,000 were tested.

The same trend was observed among men who have sex with men. “HIV positivity among MSM during April-May 2020 was high despite a reduction in number tested,” Nascop says.

In April and May, about 3,000 MSM were tested, giving positivity of 1.9 per cent, and 2.1 per cent respectively.

The higher positivity is only surpassed by January levels where about 6,000 people were tested and yielded 2.3 per cent positivity.

Commenting on the report, Nelson Otwoma, head of Nephak, a lobby for people living with HIV, said Covid-19 had impacted negatively on HIV programmes.

“The Covid-19 [control measures] threatened to erode the gains in the response to HIV,” he said.

Positivity is the percentage of all tests that detect the presence of the virus. 

Otwoma praised the strategies the Ministry of Health employed to keep ARV supplies stable last year.

“Through the multi-month dosing of ARVs, the country managed to ensure that over one million people remain on treatment despite the disruption of services and displacements and restrictions of movement occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

The positivity rates are not alarming because past surveillance studies among these key populations have documented an actual HIV prevalence of about 18 per cent among MSM and 12 per cent in FSW.

The Nascop report, compiled last year, also showed a high positivity among transgender people in April and May.

In May, out of the 50 transgender people tested, 15 per cent were HIV-positive, a figure that was only surpassed by 17 per cent in February among 50 people.

According to Dr Agatha Olago, head of primary health services and family medicine at the Ministry of Health, HIV testing remained generally lower last year than in 2019.

“Reduction in testing is likely to lead to increased spread and late diagnosis,” she said separately last week in a meeting organised by Hennet—health NGOs lobby.

About 1,401,762 adults and 106,809 children are currently living with HIV in Kenya, with a national HIV prevalence of 4.5 per cent. A total of 1,087,511 adults and 72,968 children are on ART, a coverage of 80 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.