Kenyans Succeeding at Eliminating New HIV Infections in Children
This week, I am visiting our programs in Kenya – a country with the fourth-largest number of people infected with HIV in the world.
The two facilities I visited yesterday in Ndhiwa district of Kenya’s Nyanza province showed me how our work, with support from the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is helping to shape the trajectory of HIV/AIDS among children.
Today I participated in a graduation of a sort. I saw more than 70 children who had been tested and declared free of HIV at 18 months by facilities that have established systems to track the mother-baby pair and to provide comprehensive HIV services within the first three years of life.
Within three years, Ndhiwa district hospital moved from providing ad hoc HIV services to an organized way of providing integrated HIV services as part of a suite of maternal and child health services. Consistent use of data enabled the tracking of mother-baby pairs to determine and seal loopholes to prevent new HIV infections in children.
Fifteen of the children I saw “graduated” from a lower-level facility (the Kwamo dispensary), which three years ago was only providing HIV counseling and testing to pregnant mothers. Those who tested HIV positive were referred to Ndhiwa district hospital – a day’s journey for most women from the villages where there is no public transportation.
I saw health management and facilities staff members that have won the confidence of mothers and are determined to end new HIV infections in children. Infants are consistently tested for HIV at six weeks, nine months and 18 months to ensure that children are not only born free of HIV, but also kept HIV-free throughout the breastfeeding period.
The health management and facilities staff speaks and acts with determination, with the conviction that the
number of children born with HIV in the area can come down to zero. That is their goal, and they possess the project experience and confidence that makes me believe in them. EGPAF will be there every step of the way with support.
These results coming from the Nyanza region, which has the highest HIV concentration in Kenya, are a symbol of what we can achieve for the rest of the country – and, indeed, the world – if we’re committed to working as hard as the people of Nyanza.
The battle to eliminate new HIV infection in children is being won, family by family, facility by facility, and country by country.
Chip Lyons is EGPAF's President and CEO, based in Washington, D.C.