HIV/AIDS and Kenya

HIV/AIDS in Kenya from its discovery to the present 

As we all know by now, HIV, as it is known today, was first identified in late 1980 in San Francisco where it was increasingly noticed by doctors among homosexual men.  Manifesting itself in opportunistic diseases such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), it affected individuals found to be in a weakened state of immunity.  Initially, as doctors struggled to find its cause and because all the initial cases were found among homosexual men, the disease was labeled GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).  However by 1982, with infections among intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs appearing, its name was changed to AIDS, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Kenya hard hit

Far from San Francisco, was Kenya where similarly, doctors were noticing odd symptoms among patients.  On the street, the disease called SLIM – for its slimming effect, triggered fear increasingly.  And then, in September 1984, it happened.  AIDS officially made its entrance via a 34-year old Nairobi-based Ugandan journalist.  “Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome in an African,” simply stated the East African Medical Journal. SLIM had a name and it was AIDS.  And AIDS would ravage the country with vengeance.

By 1985, 26 cases of AIDS had been reported and by the end of the following year an average of four new AIDS cases were being reported each month.[1] By 1987 about 1-2% of adults in Nairobi were infected with HIV and between 1989 and 1991 HIV prevalence among pregnant women in Nairobi had increased from 6.5 percent to a shocking 13 percent.[2] By 1994, about 100,000 people had already died from AIDS and around one in ten adults were infected with HIV.[3]

Although the HIV prevalence began to decline from its peak of 13.4 percent in 2000 and was down to 6.9 percent by 2006[4], the scourge has continued to decimate every part of the country. More than 1.5 million people are living with HIV and around 1.2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. In 2006 85,000 people died from AIDS related illnesses. New infections were estimated at 100,000 in 2009 for Kenyans 15 years and older.[5] By the late 1990s, on peaking at 10% among adults, HIV was declared a national emergency by the country’s then President, Daniel Arap Moi:

 “AIDS is not just a serious threat to our social and economic development, it is a real threat to our very existence…AIDS has reduced many families to the status of beggars…no family in Kenya remains untouched by the suffering and death caused by AIDS…”. President Moi, 1999

Deaths abound, a downward trend…FINALLY

Over time, and with higher death rates, lower incidences of infection, some behavioral modification, and a “total war against AIDS” as affirmed by President Kibaki, the HIV prevalence has dropped to 7.4% or 1.4 million infections. In the latest survey released in July 2008 by the Kenya Ministry of Medical Services, the HIV prevalence is reported to be 15.3% in Nyanza, 9.0% in Nairobi, 7.9%in Coast Province, 7.0% in the Rift Valley, 5.1% in Western Province, 4.7% in Eastern, 3.8% in Central and 1.0% in North Eastern Province. 

Improvements notwithstanding, the figures remain daunting. No family, village, district or province can claim to have been spared the pain caused by the disease. 

Women and girls

The angel of the Family is Woman. Mother, wife, or sister, Woman is the caress of life, the soothing sweetness of affection shed over its toils, a reflection for the individual of the loving providence which watches over Humanity… Giuseppe Mazzini

Kenya is losing its angels to the HIV/AIDS epidemic at an alarming rate. Kenyan women and girls are disproportionately infected by HIV and AIDS, and young women are particularly at risk. Young women between 15 and 19 years are three times more likely to be infected than their male counterparts, while 20–24-year-old women are 5.5 times more likely to be living with HIV than men of the same age. (National AIDS/STI Control Programme, 2009).


By 2009, about 184,052 Kenyan children had been infected. Another 22,259 children got newly infected in 2009. The high incidence of paediatric infection has caused serious concern and an emphasis on prevention services for pregnant mothers. Still, about 1 in 4 babies born to HIV infected mothers are infected and PMTCT services are still only available in 50 percent of health facilities.[6] The increase in paediatric treatment of HIV tells a sad story; 13,000 children were treated in 2007, 20,517 in 2008 and 28,370 in 2009, a number that reflects only about 24.2% of children in need of treatment.[7]

[1] AIDS Newsletter (1986), (1987)

[2] Temmerman, M et al (1992) ‘Rapid increase of both HIV-1 infection and syphilis among pregnant women in Nairobi, Kenya

[3] AIDS Newsletter (1994) ‘Economic impact in Kenya’, Item 446, 23rd May

[4] NASCOP & Ministry of Health (2006) ‘Sentinel surveillance of HIV and STDs in Kenya

[5] UNGASS (2010) Country progress report – Kenya

[6] UNGASS (2010) Country progress report – Kenya

[7] UNGASS (2010) Country progress report – Kenya