Kenyan teens rejecting HIV treatment, new study shows

A report by a global agency has warned the fight against HIV/Aids in Kenya could be undermined by adolescents discontinuing treatment.

The 2017 report by United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (Unaids) has flagged Kenya’s population of school-going teenagers as the most likely to stop treatment.

Some, according to the report that gave a global update on HIV/Aids as per the 2016 numbers, may also never start medication even after being diagnosed and found positive.

The flagged population are teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19, a majority of who are high school students, according to the report titled Ending Aids Progress Towards the 90-90-90 Targets.

The report documented that treatment adherence among young people is generally lower: “…and treatment failure rates are comparatively higher, especially among adolescents who are transitioning from paediatric to adult care.”

The findings were derived from data collected in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

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“Studies indicate young people aged 15–19 years are more likely to drop out of HIV care, both before and after starting antiretroviral (ARV) therapy,” the report reads in part.

And according to the studies, some of the reasons put forward for this scenario are stigma, discrimination and disclosure issues.

Others are travel and waiting times at clinics as documented for those aged between 19 and 21.

“Stigma and discrimination at healthcare facilities discourage people from using services that can protect their health and well-being, including HIV testing and treatment,” the report added.

Although results among young people (aged 15–24 years) did not quite reach the 90–90–90 targets according to the report (90 per cent diagnosed, 90 per cent treatment and 90 per cent viral suppressed), Unaids notes that the health outcomes for the population living with HIV has remarkably improved.

This means chances of onward transmission of the virus have sharply reduced.

In Kenya, despite 30 per cent of new HIV infections being among the youth (an average of 97 cases every day), viral suppression rates stand at 63 per cent.

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Suppression of the virus is achieved when one takes the antiretroviral medication religiously and gets monitored by their specialists in case of any complication. It also reduces chances of resistance.

This, according to Kenyan-born researcher Prof Thumbi Ndung’u who is based in a South African university, can in the long run ‘heal’ the patients.

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