May 5, 2008
Many of the Kenyans displaced by December's post-election violence are HIV patients, and for them the tumult was especially hard. For many patients, antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was interrupted, and the conditions they found themselves in risked worsening the disease.
For one week during the crisis, Everlyn Tatu, a 23-year-old mother, could not take her ARVs because the men who attacked her stole them. Fleeing, she could not access replacements.
"Because I was not taking ARVs, my ear started removing pus," Tatu said. "It was too painful. All the time I was crying, I was crying. I discovered that it was because [of the lack of] ARVs. By the time I took ARVs, it stopped."
Such treatment interruptions are dangerous to patients, possibly spawning viral resistance for which they would need more expensive drugs, said Dr. Sylvester Kimaiyo, program manager in Kenya for the USAID-supported Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS (AMPATH).
"Treatment of HIV in this country is not going to be the same again," Kimaiyo said, noting that the majority of AMPATH's 67,000 patients had treatment interruptions for up to two weeks amidst the turmoil. There are 4,000 patients whose whereabouts are unknown, he said.
"When we visited them in their homes, taking medicine to their homes, some would run away because of stigma-related issues, disclosure," said Dr. Hosea Some, head of the AMPATH clinic in Burnt Forest.
The violence resulted in the deaths of 1,000 people and left up to 600,000 homeless. Today, the situation is more stable after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga have agreed to a power-sharing deal. Though tens of thousands of people are still displaced and living in camps across the nation, nearly all HIV patients now have ARV access at the sites.