By Mike Mwaniki
People most at risk of HIV infection have been urged to enrol on Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to protect themselves from the disease.
Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) chief research officer Dr Nelly Mugo revealed that studies showed PrEP conferred over 90 percent protection against HIV infection when taken regularly.
PrEP is a combination of two drugs that people most at risk can take before sex to prevent HIV infection.
Existing evidence, Dr Mugo noted, shows that people who take tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine (FTC) as PrEP have a 90 percent lower chance of being infected with HIV than people not taking it.
The Health Ministry is offering PrEP free-of-charge in selected public health facilities as part of a combination HIV prevention programme for people most at risk of HIV infection.
Dr Mugo identified these high-risk groups as young people, serodiscordant couples, people who inject drugs and sex workers.
“Journalists have a crucial role to play in mitigating against barriers –which include myths and misconceptions—on the use of PrEP.”
Mugo said scientists are concerned over the high rate of new HIV infections occurring among the youth aged between 15 to 24 years who are contributing 50 per cent of the infections.
The KEMRI chief research scientist urged journalists to be protective especially on young girls while covering sexuality issues.
“As a country, it is also high time that we should also rethink on the introduction of sexual education for our youth in our schools to enhance awareness.”
At the same time, Dr Mugo also warned of an upsurge of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Kenya such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma genitalia which cause infertility and were especially difficulty to detect in women.
According to a newly released World Health Organisation (WHO) report titled Coming of age: Adolescent health the world now has more young people than ever before—of the 7.2 billion people worldwide, over three billion are younger than 25 years making up 42 per cent of the world population.
Around 1.2 billion of these young people are adolescent aged10 and 19 years.
Young people can also face sexual health issues such as sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancies.
At the same time, the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (2012) warns that young people take higher risks in general including having unprotected sex.
“We have a responsibility to protect our youth—whose population is huge– by making it our business to know what they are doing in protecting themselves,” Dr Mugo asserted.
Although the number of new HIV infections among new borns has declined drastically, Dr Mugo said policymakers are worried at the increased cases among our youth.
Earlier, while speaking to Health Business magazine, the National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) Deputy Head, Dr Irene Mukui revealed that Kenya has recorded the highest number of people in Africa taking PrEP.
Currently, more than 20,000 people are taking the drugs, which were rolled out by the Ministry of Health in May 2017.