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Kenya young women bear bulk of new HIV infections — Agency

Members of Y+ Kenya, a consortium of five organisations of youth living with HIV. Increasing number of unintended pregnancies among young girls has worsened their vulnerabilities to contracting HIV.
Photo credit: Photo | Pool

The increasing number of unintended pregnancies among young girls in the country has worsened teenagers’ vulnerabilities to contracting HIV, a National Aids Control Council (NACC) official has said.

According to the latest report by NACC, young girls form the bulk of new HIV infections in the country.

Last year, many teenagers who were out of school following closure of learning institutions to control spread of Covid-19 pandemic got pregnant, predisposing themselves to HIV.

Speaking at Taita Taveta University in Mwatate, Taita Taveta County recently, NACC acting Deputy Director of Policy, Monitoring and Research, Mr Joshua Gitonga said the council is conducting a survey to establish the impact of Covid-19 on HIV. 

“We are carrying out population-based survey, which will show us the impact of Covid-19 on HIV. With the increased teen pregnancies, we expect (possibly) increased infection among the young people,” he said.

He, however, said they project that the number of new infections could have gone down due to measures put by NACC and partners. 

Mr Gitonga noted that the sharp surge of unintended pregnancies among young girls during the prolonged closure of schools over Covid-19 last year, have been attributed to unsafe sexual practice, which also exposed them to the risk of contracting HIV.

Premarital sex

He said about 50 per cent of young people engage in premarital sex with more than half of all new HIV infections occurring among youth aged 15-26.

“That is why we have been in the forefront to create awareness among the youth and urging them to go for testing and protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and HIV by use of condoms,” he said.

Data from NACC shows that youth aged 15-26 contribute 42 per cent of the total number of new HIV infections in the country.

“We need to scale up and ensure sustained supply of government free condoms to prevent HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies,” he said.

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Mr Gitonga said the depressing economic times, especially for impoverished families may have increased girls’ vulnerability to engage in transactional sex for economic benefit, thus increasing their risk of being infected with HIV.

Kenya has 1.5 million people living with HIV and statistics show that women bear the biggest HIV burden with 942,653 while 565,752 men are infected. 

About 20,000 people die due to HIV/Aids related complications annually. 

“We are working to ensure that we reduce the number of new infections and prevent people from dying from the disease. We have enough medicine and proper strategies to prevent further spread and deaths,” Mr Gitonga said.

The official said there was a decline in number of people tested and those counselled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 restrictions and that made it difficult for them to access their healthcare needs.

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