Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a global disaster for people all over the world. According to a report by UNAIDS, as of 2018, the Eastern and Southern Africa region remains the most affected by the HIV epidemic, accounting for 45% of the world’s HIV infections, and makes up 53% of people living with HIV globally. (UNAIDS, 2018)
In Kenya, HIV continues to be a major challenge, with the national prevalence estimated at 1.6 million Kenyans living with HIV, according to the Kenya HIV and AIDS research Agenda of 2014/15-2018/19. (National AIDS Control Council, 2014)
According to the UNESCO website, the United Nations defines the “youth” as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24. The youth in today’s society are at increased risk of HIV infection due to the various developmental, psychological, social, and structural transitions that occur during this period of their lifespans. In fact, half of the 15 to 19-year-olds who are living with HIV in the world live in just six countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania. (AVERT, 2018)
The youth are most disadvantaged in the fight against HIV for the following reasons:
Lack of awareness
The World Health Organization reports that a considerable portion of HIV-positive youth are unaware of their status, and many of those who are aware of their status do not receive effective, long-term antiretroviral treatment. (World Health Organization, 2018)
A great lack of awareness exists among youth, especially in African culture, whereby questions about sexuality are considered taboo. This causes them to shy away from asking their elders about the risks of engaging in sexual activity, and end up taking part in these acts without appropriate knowledge.
Most adults also do not have the essential information to equip the youth with knowledge on how to prevent the spread and transmission of HIV/AIDS. A survey of schools in Zimbabwe in 2016 reported that many teachers lacked the proper knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues. I.e. knowledge about HIV, how to talk to students about HIV, etc. (Campbell et al., 2016) . Therefore many students lack access to proper knowledge about HIV/AIDS in schools, making them more disadvantaged to others in society.
Drug abuse is one of the many addictions that begins among the youth. This is because, at this age, there is a fairly high chance of experimentation among peer groups. People who share needles and syringes for injecting drugs are at a very high risk of contracting HIV. “If a needle has been used by a HIV-positive person, infected blood in the needle can be injected into the next person that uses the needle” (AVERT, 2017)
It is also reported that fewer HIV prevention programs focus on reaching out to vulnerable youth to prevent them from starting to abuse drugs, or end their addiction. This makes them the most disadvantaged among society.
Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS
Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS are those under the age of 18 who have lost one or both parents to the disease. Among those orphaned, are the youth. They face discrimination, stigmatization, and depression due to their situations, which are beyond their control. They are more vulnerable than other youth to abuse, prostitution, beggary, and drug abuse. Therefore, these youth are the most advantaged in the fight against HIV, due to their exposure to such harsh living situations. (Naswa & Marfatia, 2010)
Early sexual debut
The age at which young people are having sex is slowly rising, exposing more youth to the disease. Adolescence and early adulthood is a vital period of development where significant physical and emotional changes occur. This is a time for exploring and navigating peer relationships, sexuality, and gender norms. (AVERT, 2018)
It is at this young age that the youth begin to explore their sexuality. They begin to derive pleasure from experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and even sex. This period of exploration and curiosity, coupled with a lack of awareness on the disease, can highly expose youth to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The WHO believes that people need to know how to protect themselves from HIV infection, and must have the means necessary to do so. (World Health Organization, 2018) If the youth are given access to comprehensive education on the spread and transmission of HIV/AIDS, they will be more likely to make informed decisions regarding their experiences in the outside world.
The youth already infected with HIV/AIDS must also have affordable access to antiretroviral treatment. Parents and schools must also be encouraged to engage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This will aid the youth in making conscious decisions about their lives, when given proper advice by their elders.
The first case of HIV in Kenya was detected in 1984. By the mid-1990s, HIV was one of the major causes of illness in the country, putting huge demands on the healthcare system as well as the economy. In 1996, 10.5% of Kenyans were living with HIV, although prevalence has almost halved since then, standing at 5.9% by 2015. This progress is mainly due to the rapid scaling up of HIV treatment and care. (Ministry of Health Kenya & National AIDS Control Council, 2014). As of 2018, 75% of people living with HIV were on treatment, 63% of whom were virally suppressed. (UNAIDS, 2018)
Although the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed, the epidemic was not considered a serious problem until the late 1980’s when the Government of Kenya launched a comprehensive five-year Medium-Term Plan (MTP) under the AIDS Programme Secretariat (APS) to control HIV/AIDS. This plan focused on prevention of HIV infection by screening blood, promoting safer sexual practices, and early diagnosis of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). It also developed national public awareness programmes, as well as training health care workers in the management of the HIV/AIDS patients. (Juma, 2001)
This participation by the government gave way for additional government spending and participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Donors such as the World Bank and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been actively participant in the fight against the disease. (Nyaga & Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis., 2004)
Impact on the household sector
During a study carried out on The Economic Impact of AIDS in Kenya in 1999, it was discovered that the disease had a major impact on the Kenyan economy. The Kenyan households were most affected. Smaller rural households lost between 58-78 percent of household income following AIDS-related deaths of an economically active adult in the household. In the urban household was ranging between 54-66 percent.(Bollinger, Stover, & Nalo, 1999)
By 1996, it was estimated that 300,000 children had been orphaned by AIDS. Majority of communities, as well as the government, had been forced to bear the brunt of looking after these orphans, while other orphans had to drop out of school to start engaging in child labour. (Bollinger et al., 1999)
Impact on the agricultural sector
During this period, agriculture was the largest sector in the Kenyan economy, accounting for a large portion of production as well as a key source of employment. In the report carried out on The Economic Impact of AIDS in Kenya, as explained above, the firm surveyed commercial agro-estates in Nyanza, Rift Valley and Eastern. It was reported that, in these estates, medical expenses had significantly increased in response to opportunistic diseases arising from HIV/AIDS cases among employees. Additionally, due to the absenteeism faced when the ill employees had to take days off, the healthy employees had to work extra hours to compensate for the time lost by their colleagues. This led to healthy employees being overworked and drained. (Bollinger et al., 1999)
Impact on the health sector:
A study on The Direct and Indirect Costs of HIV/AIDS estimated that in 1990, the cost of hospital care for all AIDS patients was an estimated Ksh. 480 million. This high cost proves that the country spent very large expenditure to care for and treat AIDS patients. (Bollinger et al., 1999)
Government response to the AIDS epidemic
Recognizing the seriousness of the epidemic, the Government of Kenya came up with various policy initiatives to stem the plague. The Sessional Paper No.4 of 1997 on AIDS in Kenya recognized the main response measure by the government as the establishment of the National AIDS Committee, and development of strategic plans to deal with the plague.
In 1985, the government also established the AIDS Programme Secretariat (APS), which later in 1987 became the Kenya National AIDS Control Programme. The programme emphasised the need for creating awareness about AIDS, blood safety, clinical management of AIDS, and capacity building for management of AIDS at a national level.
Based on these reasons, it is plausible to conclude that the HIV/AIDS pandemic greatly affected the Kenyan economy, making it the “most painful times” in the history of the country. Today, however, many changes are being made toward the prevention and treatment of the disease.
- AVERT. (2017). People who inject drugs, HIV and AIDS. Retrieved from https://www.avert.org/node/386/pdf
- AVERT. (2018). Young people, HIV and AIDS. Retrieved from https://www.avert.org/node/389/pdf
- Bollinger, L., Stover, J., & Nalo, D. (1999). The Economic Impact of AIDS in Kenya The POLICY Project. Retrieved from http://www.policyproject.com/pubs/SEImpact/Kenya.pdf
- Campbell, C., Andersen, L., Mutsikiwa, A., Madanhire, C., Nyamukapa, C., & Gregson, S. (2016). Can Schools Support HIV/AIDS-Affected Children? Exploring the ‘Ethic of Care’ amongst Rural Zimbabwean Teachers. PLOS ONE, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0146322
- Juma, M. (2001). Coping with HIV/AIDS in Education: Case Studies of Kenya and Tanzania (1st ed.). London: Commonwealth Secretariat. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=QLTdre6je80C&printsec=frontcover&dq=hiv+kenya&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwijrsWBj8_gAhWjzoUKHQ5HDZA4ChDoAQgtMAE – v=onepage&q&f=true#v=onepage&q=hiv kenya&f=false
- Ministry of Health Kenya, & National AIDS Control Council. (2014). KENYA AIDS STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK – 2014/15 – 2018/19. Nairobi. Retrieved from http://www.undp.org/content/dam/kenya/docs/Democratic Governance/KENYA AIDS STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK.pdf
- Naswa, S., & Marfatia, Y. S. (2010). Adolescent HIV/AIDS: Issues and challenges. Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, 31(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7184.68993
- National AIDS Control Council. (2014). Kenya HIV and AIDS Research Agenda 2014/15 – 2018/19. Nairobi. Retrieved from https://nacc.or.ke/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/HIV-AND-AIDS-RESEARCH-AGENDA-2014-2019-2909201502.pdf
- Nyaga, R. K., & Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. (2004). HIV/AIDS in Kenya : a review of research and policy issues. Nairobi: Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254401648_HIVAIDS_in_Kenya_A_Review_of_Research_and_Policy_Issues
- UNAIDS. (2018). UNAIDS DATA 2018. Retrieved from http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/unaids-data-2018_en.pdf
- World Health Organization. (2018). Adolescents: health risks and solutions. Retrieved February 23, 2019, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescents-health-risks-and-solutions