In Summary

  • Truvada costs Sh3,700 per month and its generic equivalent is Sh413.
  • The young women and teenage girls are being targeted because of their fast-growing contribution to new HIV infection.
  • More females than males use condoms during their first sexual encounter but are more likely to abandon them with partners of unknown status as relationships build.

Sexually active young women and girls aged 15 to 24 are among the high-risk groups targeted in the May 4 rollout of a new method meant to protect HIV-negative people from contracting the virus.

The approach, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), involves people at high risk of contracting HIV taking an antiretroviral pill, Truvada, daily to lower their chances of getting infected.

“By having these medications in the bloodstream, HIV may be unable to establish infection,” said Dr Elizabeth Irungu from the Partners Scale-up Project.

The young females made up a third of the 71,034 Kenyans aged 15 years and above who got infected with HIV in 2015, says the Kenya Aids Response Progress Report 2016.

Truvada costs Sh3,700 per month and its generic equivalent is Sh413.

However, the cost of access is higher due to transport cost, consultation and laboratory fees.

CLINICAL TRIALS

The initiative, which is spearheaded by the government in collaboration with partner organisations, has taken years of clinical work, clinical trials and more than 50 demonstration projects in Kenya and around the world to get to the point where a scaled-up implementation is about to be launched.

According to Dr Barbara Mambo from the National Aids and STI Control Programme (Nascop), the research found that with strict daily adherence, PrEP is over 90 per cent effective at preventing HIV infection.

The studies targeted young women and girls, couples where only one partner is infected (sero-discordant) and people who inject drugs, as well as sex workers and men who have sex with men.

The young women and teenage girls are being targeted because of their fast-growing contribution to new HIV infection.

The young females made up a third of the 71,034 Kenyans aged 15 years and above who got infected with HIV in 2015, says the Kenya Aids Response Progress Report 2016.

YOUNG FEMALE ADULTS

A NationNewsplex review of HIV data shows that the young women’s contribution to new incidence of HIV is way above their proportion in the general population of 10 per cent, given that there were 4.5 million young female adults (15-24) in 2015.

According to the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) 2012, with an HIV prevalence of 4.6 per cent, young women and girls are three times more likely to contract the virus than males in the same age group.

Ms Rose Jackline Oyoko, a peer educator with an NGO that runs an HIV project in Migori’s Maryland area, is not surprised by the vulnerability of young people to HIV.

“Most of them are more worried about getting pregnant than contracting HIV,” said Ms Oyoko of the sexually active young women and girls that she counsels.

Her assertions are supported by data, which shows more females than males use condoms during their first sexual encounter but are more likely to abandon them with partners of unknown status as relationships build.

USING CONDOMS

One in four young women, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2016, do not know that using condoms during sex and having sex with one uninfected partner can reduce the risk of HIV.

Recently, Ms Oyoko counselled a teen who had been expelled from a mixed boarding school after she was found having sex during night preps.

A common ‘game’ girls in mixed boarding schools play is selecting the most ‘handsome’ boy in their class and then competing for his attention, she said.

“Whoever succeeds gets to have sex with the boy during preps,” Ms Oyoko told Newsplex. “Sometimes multiple girls sleep with the same boy.”

When schools close for the holidays, some girls accompany their boyfriends to their homes for even a week before going to their own homes, she added.

SEX WITHOUT PROTECTION

“Since this is a rural area, where older boys sleep in houses away from the main house, the girl can stay with their boyfriend without his parents knowing,” said Ms Oyoko.

The scary bit is that the youth have sex without protection, with multiple partners, because they have bought into myths about condom use, including the claim that sex is less fun with condoms and causes stomach-ache and other reactions.

According to the latest KAIS, only 28 per cent of women aged 15 to 64 in a relationship with a non-cohabiting girlfriend or boyfriend whose HIV status they did not know reported consistently using condoms during sex.

Use among men in a similar situation was more, at 46 per cent.

According to persons working in HIV support groups, teens in Nairobi from more affluent backgrounds, who are better able to organise sexual encounters, are at higher risk.

POOL PARTIES

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