Health Experts Fear HIV Crisis for Uprooted Kenyans
January 30, 2008
Public health experts are alarmed at the impact the growing political and ethnic strife in Kenya is having on the nation's HIV epidemic.
According to Kenyan Health Ministry figures cited by UNAIDS, approximately 15,000 of the more than 250,000 people who have fled the violence in the month following Kenya's disputed presidential election are HIV-positive. Of those, 2,550 were on antiretroviral treatment, access to which has been cut off. An unknown additional number of HIV patients are trapped at home and missing treatment because local health clinics are closed, or because they are too afraid to travel.
"We don't know where our patients are," said Florence Muli-Musiime, deputy director-general of the Kenya-based African Medical and Research Foundation. "We had a very good tracking system using our contacts in the community, but this has now broken down."
A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the country's HIV crisis could become much worse if tensions are not calmed soon. "Without adequate nutrition, water, and sanitation, and vital AIDS services, people living with HIV are at risk of succumbing to opportunistic infections and more rapid disease progression," said Elisabeth Byrs.
Byrs also expressed concern over sexual attacks being carried out against women and children in refugee camps. Many have been raped, and few are seeking immediate medical care. UN reports suggest the desperate conditions are leading some females to trade sex for food or protection, which may further spread HIV. And among the refugees are potentially large numbers of people with undiagnosed TB, an airborne infection especially deadly for HIV patients.
1.30.2008; Laura MacInnis
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