Kenya losing the fight against HIV after all, experts warn
Prime Minister Raila Odinga receives preliminary results of the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey 2007 from Public Health and Sanitation minister Beth Mugo in Nairobi. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE
Posted Tuesday, July 29 2008 at 21:01
- A three per cent rise in prevalence rates came as a shock because Kenyans were of the opinion that Aids pandemic had been contained.
- 2007 KAIS study show prevalence rates in the national population at 8 per cent, an almost four point increase.
- Government has been discussing and agonising on the authenticity of the results and how to make them public.
- KAIS findings raise some pertinent questions about what is really going in the HIV and Aids field.
The new Aids statistics released Tuesday by the Government are bound to disappoint Kenyans who in the last few years have been made to believe that the virus was on the retreat.
A three per cent rise in prevalence rates announcement came as a shock because Kenyans were of the opinion that Aids control agencies had finally found a formula to contain the pandemic.
In the last three years Kenya has come in for special praise from global Aids agencies for managing to bring down prevalence rates from a high of 10 per cent in the 1990s to about 7 per cent in 2003 and 5.1 per cent last year.
But now according to the 2007 Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) released on Tuesday prevalence rates in the national population stands at 8 per cent, indicating an almost four point increase.
Controversy over Aids statistics is not new and can be traced back six years ago with the launch of the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey – 2003 which indicated that HIV prevalence rates was 6.7 per cent.
Before then, the National Aids Control Council and other Aids organisations were working on the assumption that the HIV prevalence rates were at 10 + per cent. It was then explained that the 10+ figure was wrong and arrived at through the use unreliable measurement tools – use of prenatal clinics as sentinel sites.
Consequently, the Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys (KDHS) data, indicating a 6.7 prevalence rate was adopted as the correct position then. Realizing the unreliability of the earlier figures the UN also revised its figures for some 15 countries including Kenya downwards.
Now the KAIS study used similar assessment tools to the KDHS 2003 survey and came out with similar trends and more believable figures. If the new figures are correct, then NACC and other government officials will be hard put to explain whether they deliberately misled Kenyans that the country was winning the war against the virus or the other factors at play.
Faced with this predicament, it was understood that Tuesday’s launch was not without acrimony, with some government officials refusing to be part of the process.
It is well understood that for close to a month, since the completion of the KAIS study, the Government has been discussing and agonising on the authenticity of the results and how to make them public.
The Board of the National AIDS Control Council had expressed reservations about the study, which was funded by the United States government to a tune of US$ 6 million.
When the results were first released by the team of researchers, the board is understood to have asked one of its senior epidemiologist – expert in the causes, spread, and control of diseases — to scrutinize the study and see if it was scientifically arrived at.
The scientist returned a clean bill of health about the findings. External scientists who had participated in the study are understood to have applied pressure on the government to have the report released.
At this point, this matter was referred to the Cabinet and other senior government officials for direction. After several meetings and discussions, it was agreed that National Aids Control Council and National Aids and STD Control Programme, come up with a logical answer for the public, explaining away the new 7.8 per cent prevalence rate.