By MIKE MWANIKI
Health experts have warned of increased cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma genitalia in the country over the last five years.
Lethal STIs, whose symptoms usually remain undetected for long in women, block fallopian tubes causing infertility, miscarriages, deformed or permanent complications for babies whose mothers are afflicted by the sexually transmitted diseases.
National Aids and STIs Control Programme (NASCOP) STI Programme Manager Dr Catherine Ngugi said due to the high prevalence of the diseases, WHO introduced test kits for HIV and Syphilis known as Duo-Kit.
The Duo-Kit, Ngugi noted, is limited to testing only pregnant mothers in public health facilities.
“Kenya is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce Duo-Kits in public health facilities through funding provided by government through NASCOP,” Ngugi told Health Business.
A study carried out in Kisumu among 564 girls enrolled on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), drugs preventing HIV infection among those uninfected by the disease, shows a majority were infected by STIs after screening.
“The breakdown shows that among the 564 girls aged between 16 to 25 years, those infected with gonorrhoea were 38 percent, chlamydia 83 percent while those with both gonorrhoea and chlamydia were 16 percent,” Ngugi observed.
She added that to stem the tide in the rise of the STIs, the Kisumu site has introduced partner notification services (PNS) where their partners exposed to STIs are treated in confidentiality.
The results, Ngugi noted, reveal that a majority of the girls were engaging in unprotected sex.
At the same time, she warned that 80 per cent of those infected would become infertile and described the increased STIs among the youth as a ‘ticking time-bomb’ bearing in mind that 60 percent of Kenya’s population are the youth.
However, she noted that rise in STIs cases is not confined to Kenya alone but is a global problem. In the United States, the updated sentinel report shows STI cases were four times higher than previously estimated.
According to the latest WHO ‘Coming of Age: Adolescent Health’ report, over three billion people are younger than 25 years, making up 42 percent of the world population.
Around 1.2 billion of these young people are adolescents aged 10 to 19 years.
The report says young people can also face sexual health issues such as STDs or teenage pregnancies.
Kenya Aids Indicator Survey, 2012, warns that young people take higher risks in general including having unprotected sex.
The survey also found out that 23 per cent of young people, aged between 15 and 24, who have ever had sex used a condom while one in every five young people in this age group has had sex before 15 years.
NASCOP Deputy Head Dr Irene Mukui said of the 53,000 new HIV infections occurring annually in Kenya, more than 50 per cent of the cases were occurring among adolescents aged 15 to 24 years.
In a bid to stem the rise in STIs among the general population, Ngugi noted, NASCOP plans to set-up 10 STI sentinel surveillance sites and also upgrade laboratory systems in public health facilities.
Training manuals for health workers to be vigilant on STIs have also being rolled out.
“It is also instructive to note that screening for STIs is not cheap as it costs up to Sh3, 000 per person. As we embrace Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) should provide cover for treating and managing STIs and Hepatitis B.”
Ngugi observed there was a high prevalence of Hepatitis B, which causes liver cancer, especially among people living in Baringo, Western and Nyanza regions.
NASCOP’s self-testing Programme Manager Mary Mugambi said between May to October 2018, 794,000 HIV self-testing kits had been distributed to public health facilities while 300,000 others are expected to be distributed to private facilities.
HIV self-testing is a process where a person collects his /her own sample, conducts a HIV test and interprets own results in an easy, safe and confidential manner.
Ms Mugambi observed that latest data shows 60 percent of HIV self-test kits bought in selected pharmacies were purchased by men.
“The approved HIV self-test kits in Kenya are known as Oraquick HIV self-test (oral fluid) and Insti HIV self- test kit (blood based).”
Health Ministry last year launched the self-test initiative dubbed ‘Be Self Sure campaign’ to encourage Kenyans to get tested for HIV.
As part of the campaign, government is making self-test kits available through public and private health facilities and selected pharmacies.
Mugambi said Kenya is the first country in Africa distributing HIV self-test kits to public health facilities in 10 high-volume areas throughout the country.
“Global Fund bought 500,000 HIV self-test kits this year while 800,000 others were bought through PEPFAR for public health facilities. The kits are distributed through KEMSA,” she said.
By launching the HIV self-test initiative, Kenya is continuing to affirm its position as a leader and innovator in efforts to end the Aids epidemic by 2030.