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Nyeri MP wants efforts to combat HIV redirected to students

Nyeri Member of Parliament has asked the government to redirect its focus in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in learning Institutions.

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge told a sensitization forum on the Triple Threat campaign for community gatekeepers that with the town boasting of four government colleges and one private medical training center the high number of the students in these institutions should be made aware of protection and potential of being infected with the virus.

The lawmaker noted that while several learners reside within such institutions of learning where rules may be stringent, the majority rent hostels in town where they may be prone to engaging themselves in unprotected sexual activities owing to peer pressure and indulgence in alcoholism and drug abuse.

Triple Threat campaign is a Government’s multi-pronged approach towards eliminating the risk of new HIV infections, unintended pregnancies, and gender-based violence among adolescents and young women.

“Nyeri town has five major institutions of learning with a cumulative population of more than 20,000 students with the majority of the students residing outside these facilities. In the end, a number of them may find themselves infected with HIV after engaging in unprotected sex owing to peer influence.

We therefore need to find out ways and means of how to address such challenges through community-based mobilization strategies to salvage these youths from this danger,” said Mathenge during the forum which was organized by the National Syndemic Disease Control Council (NSDCC).

Nyeri residents during community gatekeepers and opinion leaders’ sensitization forum on ending new HIV infections, adolescent pregnancies, and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the county. The session was held at the Nyamachaki PCEA hall in Nyeri town.

Statistics from the Kenya Health Information Service (KHIS) show HIV prevalence in 2022 among adolescents aged between 10-19 years in Nyeri stood at 32 percent.

In addition, HIV prevalence rates among those aged between 15-24 stood at 44 percent of all the new infections in the country the same year.

The lawmaker has also raised the red flag over the increasing cases of substance abuse in Nyeri town especially in low-income areas such as slums.

He warned that unless urgent steps are taken by all stakeholders to address the vice, the lives of hundreds of youths in the area will be ruined.

Mathenge pointed out that Nyeri town is currently witnessing a steady influx of proscribed drugs such as heroin and is now ranked among notable drug hotspots after Mombasa and Nairobi.

“Nyeri town is currently trailing Mombasa and Nairobi as far as proliferation of heroin and other hard drugs is concerned. We need to address this problem as a matter of urgency. We need to salvage our youth from this imminent ruin that is currently staring at them. It is for the same reason that we have opened a rehabilitation and treatment center for those addicted to drugs and alcoholism at Ihururu Trading Center. We do hope that the center will soon start attending to those in need of admission,” he added.

On his part NSDCC Chair, Mr Geoffrey Gitu said the challenge of teenage pregnancies, the spread of HIV, and sexual and gender-based violence among young men and women remains a real threat facing the county.

He said Nyeri ranks among counties where teenage pregnancies are on an upward trajectory and the Government was committed to ensuring this trend is reversed through a community-based sensitization approach such as employing the services of Community Health Promoters (CHP)

“Teenage pregnancies in Nyeri are quite high and statistics are showing there is a seven per cent increase in early teenage pregnancy. This is why as an institution we are pushing this Triple Threat on to various places and not limited to Nyeri. We have so far visited Meru, Murang’a, and Homa Bay and so Nyeri is not the unique place that is having these issues,” he said.

On HIV prevalence among adolescents, Gitu blamed ignorance among the young for the soaring new numbers.

He said while HIV remains one of the country’s top health concerns, many young people appear less keen on protecting themselves against the disease.

“One of the things we have realized is that young people are no longer afraid of contracting HIV but only scared of becoming pregnant. You will find that they will easily buy contraceptives rather than a condom which is also being issued free by the Government. We are also addressing cases of sodomy and homosexual practices and prostitution which have become an issue in Nyeri,” he added.

During celebrations to mark last year’s World Aids Day, NSDCC had singled out those under the age of 24 years among people bearing the brunt of new HIV infections.

Speaking at the Nyeri Baden Powel’s grounds, Ms Monica Njoroge an NSDCC director said unless drastic steps are taken to address the challenge, the socio-economic impact of the disease on young people would be disastrous for the country’s future.

Ms Njoroge revealed that despite Kenya’s effort to reduce HIV prevalence levels from 14 percent in 1984 (when the first case of the disease was detected in the country) to the current 4.5 percent infection trends among the youth remained shockingly high.

“Our youth are at risk because of HIV. And even with the achievement (fall in HIV infection levels) the problem we have remains among our youth. In 2021 there were 34,540 new infections with 67 percent of this being young women and girls. In addition, 41 percent of the new infections were young people between 15 and 24 years. We therefore need to talk to the youth as a country since if we don’t talk, we have no future as a country,” she told the press on the sidelines of the fete.

And despite worries over decreased donor funding for HIV prevention and care in the country, NSDCC has appealed to persons who already know their status but are not yet on treatment to come out and access the required medical intervention to avoid jeopardizing their health.

Currently, there are 1.4 million living with HIV in Kenya with 200,000 of them out of antiretroviral treatment.

Njoroge urged those not on treatments to urgently seek necessary medical intervention to ensure the country wins the war against the virus that has killed more than 40 million people globally.

“We are making calls to those people who know their status to come out and be put under antiretroviral treatment. They should know that this disease is not a death sentence. You can be living positively with the disease. But when you are not on ARVs you are courting death,” she said.

By Samuel Maina

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