On Thursday 1st December 2016, the entire world commemorated World AIDS Day. The day is important to commemorate the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, inform and educate the public on issues regarding HIV/AIDS, promote stigma reduction towards HIV/AIDS-infected and affected individuals and discuss risk-reduction strategies.
The Theme of the Day was “Hands Up for HIV prevention among adolescents and youth”, therefore activities of the day concentrated on these groups.
Adolescents and young people represent a growing share of people living with HIV worldwide. In 2015 alone, 670,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 250,000 (37%) were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. To compound this, most recent data indicate that only 13 per cent of adolescent girls and 9 per cent of adolescent boys aged 15-19 in sub-Saharan Africa – the region most affected by HIV – have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months and received the result of the last test. If current trends continue, hundreds of thousands more will become HIV-positive in the coming years. Additionally, AIDS-related deaths among adolescents have increased over the past decade while decreasing among all other age groups, which can be largely attributed to a generation of children infected with HIV perinatally that are growing into adolescence (UNICEF, 2015).
In 2015, a new global strategy was launched which aims to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. To achieve this, it is critical to accelerate efforts to address the epidemic among adolescents and young people. Therefore, the ALL IN! to End Adolescent AIDS agenda was launched in early 2015 in partnership with international health and development partners. This agenda established 2020 targets to better position the global AIDS response to end the AIDS epidemic among adolescents by 2030.
Despite the presence of antiretroviral drugs in the market, HIV/AIDS has claimed 34 million people’s lives so far. Current data from the World Health Organization (WHO), states that in 2014, an estimated 37 million people worldwide were living with HIV, with about 2 million new infections (WHO, 2015).
Children are also greatly affected by the burden of this disease; about 2.6 million children were living with HIV in 2014. Close to 220,000 children became newly infected with HIV in 2014. Most of these children live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for approximately 70% of new HIV infections globally. In addition, about 25.8 million people were living with HIV in 2014.
These appalling statistics clearly demonstrate HIV/AIDS is still a persistent public health problem globally. Hence the significance of celebrating World AIDS Day annually to combat this lethal disease. World AIDS Day 2016 promoted themes of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal to end the epidemic by the year 2030 and reducing the stigma of the disease among adolescents and the youth. Current estimates presented at the event put the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment globally at 16 million, while 21 million of those infected remain untreated.
In Kenya, several counties were hosting the World AIDS day event but the national event was marked at the Nyayo National in Nairobi County. There were several important dignitaries scheduled to attend the event and address the public. Some of the dignitaries included: the American ambassador to Kenya, Mr. Robert Godec; NACC director Nduku Kilonzo; as well as representatives from UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNFPA, Global Fund and WHO. KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) had an exhibition stand and the director, Prof. Omu Anzala, was represented by Dr. Borna Nyaoke at the V.I.P dais.
The chief guest was initially His Excellency the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, but due to other commitments, the First Lady Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta presided over the event, serving as the chief guest speaker. Mrs. Kenyatta highlighted the importance of seeking HIV testing to become aware of one’s status in order to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. She mentioned that currently, girls between the ages of 15-24 years have the highest proportion of new HIV infections among adults, standing at 21% (NACC, 2015). She emphasized that should infection rates among the youth keep rising, it would pose a threat to the wellbeing of the future generations and affect the productivity of the nation.
The First Lady informed the public that Kenya is one of the 10 countries in Africa selected to participate in the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) Initiative project in conjunction with the USA via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect and PEPFAR. The DREAMS project will utilize a multi-thronged approach towards the combat of HIV/AIDS and assist in achieving the goals of Zero HIV infections, Zero AIDS related deaths, Zero Stigma and Zero Discrimination. She concluded the speech by encouraging Kenyans to envision achieving the 2030 goal and a HIV/AIDS-free generation becoming a reality.
Aside from the speeches made, there were many organizations with stands to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS, drug/alcohol abuse, free medical check-ups, free HIV testing and counseling and a healthy lifestyle. These included: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation; Asian companies promoting herbal medicine for controlling HIV/AIDS symptoms; Kenyatta National Hospital; National AIDS Control Council (NACC); National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA); Red Cross- Kenya and KAVI-ICR. The coming together of these groups and more, speak to the sentiment that “turning the tide against HIV/AIDS will require a more multifaceted approach more on adolescents and young people”.
We proudly represented KAVI-ICR by informing the public about the organization, past and current research undertaken and encouraged interested parties to provide their contact details for recruitment in the studies. It was interesting to note that most people want an HIV vaccine to end or control the epidemic, and the people who were familiar with the organization were eager to know the progress of the vaccine research. The potential volunteers’ questions were addressed as appropriate. Most of the feedback we received from answering their queries and informing them about KAVI-ICR and its work were positive. Given our active participation in representing KAVI-ICR, increasing awareness of the organization and its work on the HIV/AIDS vaccine, we are hopeful it will assist in expanding its community base and establishing more networks with potential partners.
In conclusion, the overall experience participating at the World AIDS Day brought to light the importance of healthcare professionals and citizens striving to form partnerships in order to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These multiple partnerships engage all levels of stakeholders thus resulting in finding effective solutions towards the fight against the of HIV/AIDS scourge.