Activists push for new model to fight HIV/AIDS in Kenya

By Rajab Ramah in Nairobi

October 09, 2012

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Twenty-eight years since the first HIV/AIDS case was reported in Kenya, organisations are proposing a new model to fight the epidemic.

  • A man waits to be tested for HIV/AIDS at a government-run testing centre in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Around 1.5 million people are living with HIV in Kenya, but only an estimated 400,000 are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, a situation classified as a severe. [Tony Karumba/AFP]

    A man waits to be tested for HIV/AIDS at a government-run testing centre in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Around 1.5 million people are living with HIV in Kenya, but only an estimated 400,000 are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, a situation classified as a severe. [Tony Karumba/AFP]

The model, called "SAVE", an acronym for "Safer practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary counselling and testing, and Empowerment", hopes to improve the traditional ABC model, which focused on "Abstinence, Being faithful and using Condoms".

"We have been questioning the effectiveness of the ABC model for some time; we see it as obsolete and unable to give us the needed results," said Jane Ng'ang'a, Kenya chapter co-ordinator for Inerela, an international interfaith group of religious leaders living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. "That is the reason we are introducing this new approach that will phase out ABC."

According to Inerela, the ABC model's inefficacy is partly due to lack of support from some segments of society, particularly religious leaders.

The ABC model is perceived to advocate or justify unacceptable social behaviour by promoting the use of condoms, and thus inflating stigmas against people affected with the virus, Ng'ang'a told Sabahi.

In addition, ABC focuses solely on sexual transmission of the virus and fails to address transmission by blood transfusion or childbirth, she said. It also does not include effective measures for testing, care and treatment of people who have contracted the virus.

An estimated 1.5 million Kenyans are living with HIV, according to data from the 2010 UNAIDS global report, with approximately 80,000 people succumbing to illnesses related to the virus in 2009.

With SAVE, Inerela plans to use a multi-faceted approach to influence government policies and engage faith leaders and communities to change behaviours.

"This approach seeks to drop the notion that HIV is the result of immorality," Ng'ang'a said.

The programme focuses on providing mental and economic support to people affected by the disease while engaging religious leaders in the process. Programmes include training community leaders and clergy on how to deliver messages that dispel stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS.

In addition to championing abstinence and faithfulness among partners, the programme will promote the use of sterile syringes and the proper use of condoms. "We are reaching out to injecting drug users and sex workers as the infection rate is going up, particularly among these [groups] who were never targeted in the ABC model," Ng'ang'a said.

"Preaching faithfulness, abstinence and proper use of condoms is not enough if social pressures and economic vulnerabilities persist, especially [those that are negative for] women and girls," she said. Devoting resources to dispel cultural misconceptions against condoms will further help curb transmissions, she said.

SAVE also supports the use of post-exposure prophylaxis, a short-term anti-retroviral drug that reduces chances of infection after potential exposure, such as in cases of rape.

The programmes are mostly funded by Christian Aid and implemented in partnership with organisations already working in the field, Ng'ang'a said.

Empowering women in prevention efforts

The Kenya AIDS Non-Governmental Organisation Consortium (KANCO), one of the groups that work with Inerala, says it endorses SAVE because ABC left out a section of the population.

"We are particularly pleased with SAVE's focus on vulnerable groups such as women. In ABC the fight was male-centred; girls were left out in all the campaigns," said Everlyne Kibichu, a senior programme manager at KANCO. "Things such as condom use were limited to men, but now SAVE targets and empowers everyone to have control over their sexuality. It also focuses on treatment as a basic component; this is very welcome."

In addition to programmes addressing prevention and treatment, SAVE demands basic care for patients with the virus, including clean water and food.

Dr. Mohamed Karama, a principal research officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, said the SAVE programme could help significantly curb the rate of HIV infections in the country.

He told Sabahi that to effectively impact the rate of infections, people must have access to universal healthcare, nutrition and psychosocial support, as well as additional help for patients with drug-resistant cases. These challenges were not addressed in the previous programme, he said.

Despite the warm reception by activists and organisations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the government says it is not yet ready to fully endorse and incorporate SAVE in its policies.

National AIDS Control Council Director Alloys Orago said the SAVE approach offers a new dimension to the fight against the disease, but said it was "too early to consider ABC obsolete".

He said the National AIDS Control Council is still evaluating the SAVE model and considering which portions to adopt.

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Reader's Comments

  • Ndambuki
    October 22, 2012 @ 03:35:06PM

    Social and Economic empowerment will greatly help in reducing vulnerabilities/the susceptibility of many.

  • Ewoton
    October 11, 2012 @ 08:51:00AM

    It enlightens on the developments of the scourge and the way forward.

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