Fight over HIV drug taxes shows government doesn’t care about Kenyan lives

Fight over HIV drug taxes shows government doesn’t care about Kenyan lives

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BY STEPHEN OUMA

According to the 2016 HIV estimates, Adolescents aged 10-19 years accounted for 16% of all new HIV infections while the youth aged 15-24 years accounted for 40% of all adult infections.

The Kenyan government has been on a three-month stand-off with donor US Agency for International Development (USAID) over taxes for the shipment of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) stuck at the port of Mombasa.

As this is happening, the condition of HIV-positive Kenyans who need the medication is getting worse as some of them die.

My home county of Migori is among the ten counties with highest HIV burden, with a prevalence of 14.3% against Kenya’s average of 5.6%. Adolescents and youths in Migori county continue to bear a significant burden of new HIV infections, with 28% of all new infections being among Adolescents (10-19 years) while 52% were young women and men between 15 and 24 years.

Focus on the COVID19 pandemic has made us relax on educating the public about sexual and reproductive health, especially prevention of sexually transmitted infections. The lack of comprehensive sexuality education is particularly felt among youth in rural parts of the country with limited access to relevant information and media platforms.

Despite being less highlighted in the media today, HIV still remains a huge threat especially among men having sexual intercourse with men; women sex workers, people injecting themselves with drugs and young adolescent or people.

The epidemic, which is largely driven by sexual contact, is secondarily passed on to the entire population including; children and young people who are actively engaging in unsafe sex. Most of the young people have limited to or no information on unsafe sex practices to protect them.

Yet the fact that the government of Kenya seems more interested in a Sh90 million tax for drugs that are actually a donation shows money matters more than protecting the lives of Kenya’s young people.

HIV is a hidden epidemic among young people. We still have an increasing number of new infections despite several civil society organizations, youth led initiatives and government agencies spearheading in behavior change communication activities like free condoms distribution, stigma reduction campaigns, and community dialogues.

Though the country is currently battling a third wave of the Coronavirus, the government should also direct efforts to HIV and STI screening to ensure complete health support on testing services, treatment and prevention for adolescents.

I am also particularly appealing to the county government of Migori through the county director of health and chief officer of health to prioritize Adolescents and youth sexual reproductive health that is comprehensive and meets the needs of young individuals. This will greatly help in improving the nation’s health care for all.

Mr Ouma is a Youth Advocate at NAYA Kenya