NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 15 – The Government of Kenya on Friday took a monumental step in the management of HIV cases in the country by launching a campaign that will provide all persons infected with HIV access to Antiretroviral Therapy free of charge at public health facilities that provide HIV care and treatment services in the country.
The country is now compliant with the revised World Health Organisation guidelines on when ART treatment should start for those who test positive for the virus.
“Antiretroviral therapy (ART) should be initiated in everyone living with HIV at any CD4 cell count,” the guidelines which were revised last year state.
Initially the government made ARTs available to those with a CD4 count of 350 and below but those guidelines were revised in 2013.
The CD4 count gives a measure of how the infected person’s immune system is holding up against the virus with a low count indicating a compromised immune system.
“It will reduce the level of virus circulating within their body to an undetectable level and as such reduce further damage to their immune system and improve the body’s ability to fight off infections. Secondly, with an undetectable viral load level, further transmission to people who are uninfected with HIV will be minimised,” the head of the National AIDS and STI Control Program (NASCOP) Dr Martin Sirengo said at the launch of the ‘Anza Sasa’ campaign on Friday.
In September last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed that the Ministry of Health ensure all children infected with the virus access ARTs and the latest move matches in magnanimity the introduction of free maternity services at all public health facilities back in 2013.
According to NASCOP, Kenya currently has 1.5 million people living with HIV of whom about 900,000 have been on treatment.
“This national project to treat all Kenyans living with HIV is a key step towards ensuring the end of the HIV epidemic by 2030,” Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri told Capital FM News.
Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu on Friday also outlined another measure in the effort to bring new HIV infections to beyond zero:
“Infants who are identified to be HIV-infected will be initiated on antiretroviral medicines immediately to increase their chances of survival whereas infants who are not infected will be provided with preventive anti-retroviral medicines for twelve weeks after birth, this will go a long way in reducing new infections among children.”
Access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, as per the WHO guidelines, will also be available to high risk groups such as sex-workers, homosexuals and those in discordant partnerships.