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Waiting To Die – 10 Million Globally, 250,000 Of Them Kenyan

18 May 2011, Nairobi: As the first Kenya National HIV and AIDS conference opens in Nairobi today, a coalition of HIV activists is calling  on the Government of Kenya to:

Increase efforts to put more people on treatment in the country

Apply latest scientific knowledge, and

Work to ensure the global community renews its commitment to turn back the tide of HIV.

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HIV Treatment – 10 Million Globally, 250,000 Kenyan

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“10 million people globally are still in need of HIV treatment and will die within just a few years if left untreated” says Nelson Otwoma of the National Empowerment Network of PLHAs in Kenya (NEPHAK), “Here in Kenya, there are over 250,000 people in need of treatment who are not yet on HIV medications. We can’t afford to be complacent.”

Like governments across the globe, the government of Kenya needs to invest additional resources. Currently, under the Kenya PEPFAR Partnership Framework, Treasury must significantly increase domestic funding for HIV programmes as part of fulfilling its commitment to increase national health budgets by at least 10% annually until the Abuja Declaration target of 15% of national budgets for health is met.

The Government of Kenya should also take heed of latest scientific evidence and put patients on medication earlier, which has also shown to substantially increase chances of survival and reduce new transmissions.

“We are at a crucial turning point,” says Dr Jennifer Cohn of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), “Exciting new science has shown us that starting treatment earlier is important in preventing complications of HIV and death.

By treating patients before they are extremely ill, we see better results.  We’re also seeing that putting people on treatment dramatically reduces the risk of one person passing on the virus to another.

A recent study showed a 96% reduction in transmission because of HIV treatment.”

The World Health Organization HIV treatment guidelines now recommend starting HIV treatment earlier and using medications that cause far fewer side effects.

A report released this week by MSF revealed that several countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic are adopting those new guidelines – but a lack of support from donors prevents many from making vital changes on the ground.

Kenya has the opportunity to ensure that governments meeting at the UN in New York in early June commit to an ambitious blueprint for the next decade of the global AIDS response.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has asked donors and countries to support a treatment target of 13-15 million treatment by 2015. Latest evidence from large studies in Africa shows that HIV treatment not only saves lives, but lowers the risk of HIV transmission by 92% and can help slow the pace of the epidemic.

“It is crucial that Kenya works to encourage other countries to set and achieve bold treatment goals,” says Otwoma. “Having all governments commit to a treatment target is important if a credible global response is to be mounted to break the back of the epidemic.”

Kenya should also ensure it puts in place policies that allow for the cost of medicines to be kept at affordable levels, so that more people can be put on treatment.  This means rejecting proposals such as the East African anti-counterfeiting bill, which places quality-assured generic drugs in the same category of counterfeit medications.

“These laws endanger Kenya’s lifeline of generic HIV medications,” states Jacinta Nyachae from AIDS Law Project, “It is a clear priority that Kenya in its position in the EAC revise the Counterfeit Law to clearly exclude generic medications from the definition of counterfeit, so that more affordable legitimate medicines can be used in Kenya to treat the people who need them.”

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