Even as cases of teen pregnancies continue to cause a headache amongst many heath workers and stakeholders across the country, the National Aids and STIs control program, NASCOP, is now raising alarm that there may soon be experienced a sharp increase in cases of HIV infections in 13 counties across the nation. They include; Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Turkana and Busia counties. Seven culturally-circumcising counties of Nandi, Kericho, Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, West Pokot and Marsabit are also at risk.
These fears arise from the fact that there has been reduced uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC).
Past studies have shown that male circumcision reduces chances of contracting HIV by up to 60 per cent, turning VMMC into one of the biggest boosts against HIV, among the various preventive measures known so far.
By the end of last year, 2.3 million adolescent boys and men had faced the cut, according to NASCOP.
But now gains made are gradually being eroded after the biggest donors of VMMC withdrew. The pandemic not only saw donors diverting funds, but fewer people reported to hospitals. The pandemic also saw a reduction in selective surgeries of which VMMC is part.
VMMC programme manager at NASCOP, Ambrose Juma, says reduced funding from PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) is the main reason for reduced uptake which has seen numbers dwindle by 72.5 per cent from 900 monthly male cuts in Kisumu to an average of 60. Countrywide, the numbers reduced from 200,000 annually to 55,000, and it all began in March 2019, when former US President Donald Trump, cut PEPFAR funding by $1.35 billion (Sh135 billion) – the largest reduction such reduction since PEPFAR began in 2003, according to HealthGap.
In August 2020, PEPFAR stopped sponsoring VMMC for Kenyan boys aged 14 years and below, who comprised 60 per cent of the annual beneficiaries, but continued funding the cut for the 15-49-year-olds.
Juma says PEPFAR cited safety and human rights concerns and this left “a significant resource gap for the VMMC programme, which is a serious threat to its sustainability.”
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