African countries, many of them struggling against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), mark Dec. 1, the World AIDS Day.
Kenya, like many African countries, is battling to fight HIV/AIDS, and officials warn that although HIV/AIDS drugs are free in Kenya, the youth are not taking their medication.
Mercy Waithera, a 26-year-old student and peer educator living with HIV, is having the same discussion with about 60 other teenagers all living with HIV/AIDS at a church-hall in Mathare slums in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
“With a show of hands, how many people take their drugs regularly?” Waithera asks the crowd, and a sizzle of tension sweeps across the hall, around a dozen people raising their hands.
“This is why we are not winning this war, teenagers are among the highest dying in Kenya, the reason is you are not taking your medication,” Waithera says, talking to the teenagers.
Half of the group is comprised of adolescents, at the ages of 10 to 24, living with HIV/AIDS.
Mary Wambui, 16, says she stopped taking antiretroviral drugs because of the stigma associated with taking the medication in public among her peers.
Health experts in Kenya warn that a majority of AIDS-related deaths are due to youth not taking medication due to this stigma and lack of access to information concerning the disease.
“This is what kills many people. When I came out, so many people called me with very bad names and I almost gave up, that is why I want to educate the society, to save many lives,” Waithera says.
Juliet Akumu from Sauti Skika Adolescents and Young People Network says this emotional burden forces the youth to abandon life-saving medication and, “there are so many adolescents who have died due to non-adherence to medications and the numbers are rising in the current era of social media.”
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) says in 2018, 1.6 million people were living with HIV in Kenya, 89% of them knew their status, 68% were on treatment, and over 270,000 of them were of the youth population.
In Uganda, the “fear factor” once associated with HIV/AIDS has disappeared, and the country commemorated the 2019 World AIDS Day at Busaana Playground, in central Kayunga District, under the theme “Engaging Young People to champion the end of new HIV infections,” with a focus on young people.
In Somalia, a group of youth brought together by a June 2019 Training Youth Readers and University clubs on HIV/AIDS and FGM program funded by the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA) met to educate people on the epidemic.
“We asked people to know their status to help our country combat the disease and the spread of HIV, and there are free tests and advice given out to people,” Hawa Aadan, a university student told Anadolu Agency.
South Africa has the highest number of HIV cases in sub-Saharan Africa and the country is striving to reduce new infections — with more than 7 million people living with the HIV virus — and making progress in reducing the number, the country’s deputy president said on Sunday.
“Indeed, we have made progress in reducing the rate of new infections from an estimated 270,000 in 2016 to 222,000 in 2018,” David Mabuza said in a speech on the occasion of the World AIDS Day.
- Contributions by Hamza Kyeyune, Magdalene Mukami, and Hassan Isilow
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