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. Kenya, UN warn crisis risks incubating new AIDS infections

by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 22, 2008
Kenya's crisis, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, risks sparking a new wave of HIV/AIDS infections that could wipe out progress achieved so far, Kenyan and UN officials warned Thursday.

Of some 300,000 people displaced across the country, there are about 15,000 HIV/AIDS patients and less than 2,400 are receiving anti-retroviral treatments (ARTs), according to the state-run National Aids Control Programme (NACP).

"AIDS likes crises, people are on the move, people are restless, people are worried and the danger of the spread of AIDS is very serious," NACP chief Professor Miriam Were told journalists.

Were said the many likely lost essential medical records thus complicating efforts to return them to the right ART prescriptions when stability is restored.

Kenya descended into crisis when President Mwai Kibaki, 76, was declared the winner of the December 27 presidential vote, which opposition leader Raila Odinga, 63, maintains was rigged.

Ensuing political rioting, which turned into tribal fighting, has claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands, mainly in the capital's slums and in western Kenya.

UNAIDS warned that authorities may fail to contain the disease if the political crisis persists.

"We have a concern that if this crisis continues, we might not be able to continue to keep people on treatment, which will lead us to the more complicated problem of resistance," said Erusmas Morah, the UNAIDS representative in Kenya.

"There is transactional sex in exchange for shelter, food and protection ... Let us pray that soon enough we can be back to maintaining the wonderful record that Kenya has had in fighting HIV," he added.

Health experts have warned that patients who took ARTs before the crisis erupted and have been abondoned to stop treatment face the risk of developing resistance.

In January, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that sexual violence has soared in Kenya, with young women in refugee camps particularly vulnerable to rape and prostitution.

The agency warned of "a very high risk of the HIV/AIDS virus spreading" as many of the victims do not report the attacks.

Officials said the government has set up an HIV/AIDS/TB emergency response task force to collect information on the health situation in order to reccommend remedies.

"Although rapid HIV/AIDS/TB assessment tools have been sent to all provinces, feedback has been slow despite constant follow up," Were explained.

Kenya's official AIDS prevalence rate is 5.1 percent, down from from 5.9 percent in 2005, partly due to the distribution of a new drug to prevent child-mother transmission.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 72 percent of global AIDS deaths, and two-thirds of all people infected with HIV.

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