The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become a global health emergency, and we can already see the impact this has had on the HIV response. COVID-19 was first reported in Kenya on the 12th March 2020 and posed significant challenges for people living with HIV (PLHIV). The Kenyan government instituted several measures to contain the spread, including but not limited to, a nationwide curfew between 19:00 to 05.00, cessation of movement in and out of the most affected areas, in particular, Nairobi, which has seen more and more confirmed COVID-19 cases.
According to Kenya’s National Aids Control Council, 1.6 million people are living with HIV as of 2018. Kenya has an average HIV prevalence rate of 6% and is considered one of the six HIV ‘high burden’ countries in Africa. The western part of the country through Homabay, Siaya and Kisumu are the most affected with HIV with rates of 25.7%, 23.7% and 19.3% respectively. These statistics highlight the challenges a global pandemic, such as the coronavirus will have on vulnerable communities, including those who are living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The pandemic has since brought challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDs where evident disruption in services and access to information and commodities (food, water and health supplies) have been reported. This particular issue of misinformation perpetuates the negative stereotypes associated with understandings of viruses, specifically HIV/AIDS, but also results in higher instances for stigma and discrimination.
Since the world had shifted its focus onto COVID-19 and information concerning the pandemic, many news channels have limited the sharing of information about HIV/AIDs prevention, testing, and treatment. While at the moment there has been no significant research on transmission rates, especially with the coronavirus and people living with HIV, there has however been a rise of misinformation being spread suggesting PLHIV have higher chances of contracting the coronavirus.
There is a growing concern among PLHIV, with questions on access to essential medicine such as ARVs in a global crisis. With factories at a halt, reports have suggested shortage of supply for male and female condoms, HIV testing kits such as HIV rapid diagnostic kits, lubricants, and other essential medical supplies. With these concerns, organisations such as Maisha Youth began recruiting community volunteers to assist in the distribution of condoms and are working to support HIV and SRHR causes in the time of COVID-19. Likewise, many community based organisations have stepped up to provide information, as well as provide health related services where needed.
Recently the Ministry of Health Kenya indicated a significant drop in the number of people seeking medication at health facilities. Just like for any other health needs, this may suggest that PLHIV may be avoiding health facilities and clinics in fear of how the country has responded to COVID-19. Adherence to ARV’s remains of critical importance for PLHIV, especially in these times, therefore, the importance of protecting people living with HIV should be of central concern alike.
We’ve made great strides, and today, HIV infection is no longer life-threatening thanks to advancements made in medicine, science and technology. That said, HIV should always remain a public health concern. Therefore it’s essential that governments mainstream HIV prevention, testing, care and treatment amid the COVID19 response by also providing accurate and reliable information for PLHIV and those affected by HIV.
Written By: Fatinato Natse Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Koome, Emergency Medial Technician at St. John Ambulance Kenya promoting safety measures in the time of COVID-19