Feature story

UNAIDS Board members learn about Kenya’s AIDS response

28 November 2011

Credit: UNAIDS

A delegation of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) has just concluded a field visit to Kenya. The delegation learned first hand about the government’s strong commitment to a multi-sectoral and integrated AIDS response, including working with civil society organizations in planning and delivering HIV services.

With 1.6 million people currently living with HIV out of a population of 40 million, Kenya has the second largest epidemic in East and Southern Africa and the fourth largest globally.

The PCB delegation included the chair (El Salvador), vice chair (Poland), representatives from Congo, Finland, Mexico, Thailand, PCB NGOs from Africa and Asia Pacific, UNHCR and the UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations.

The delegation met with government representatives, including from the Ministry of State for Special Programmes, the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) and the National AIDS and STI Control Program (NASCOP), and civil society organizations. 

“We have had the privilege of meeting with a range of institutions and individuals who have been the driving force behind Kenya’s progress in its national AIDS response,” said Jan Beagle, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations. “While challenges remain, we are encouraged by the combination of political will at the highest level, grass-roots activism and support of all partners in advancing the response in Kenya.” 

The delegation also met representatives of networks of people living with HIV, children heading households and HIV discordant couples (where only one partner is infected with HIV) during their field visit to Kibera—the largest informal settlement in Eastern Africa. They also visited a Millennium Village Project (MVP) in Nyanza Province, where the delegation witnessed an example of a community and family-centred integrated approach where peer mothers, male champions and community health workers each play a key role in preventing new HIV infections among children.

While challenges remain, we are encouraged by the combination of political will at the highest level, grass-roots activism and support of all partners in advancing the response in Kenya

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, Jan Beagle

“The Gongo Health Centre in Sauri is a good example of comprehensive and integrated services being made accessible by trained personnel in an efficient manner to those most in need in a rural setting,” said Dr Nieto, Director of the National HIV/STI/AIDS Programme, from the Ministry of Health, El Salvador, current chair of the PCB. “It is a successful model that can and should be replicated in other countries,” she added.

The visit also addressed the crucial role of cultural and traditional leaders, as well as faith-based organizations, in responding to stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV. The delegation met with the Luo Council of Elders and participated in a meeting of faith-based organizations which focused on the role of these organizations in scaling up HIV prevention and addressing stigma and discrimination.

Kenya’s efforts in promoting a rights-based approach for people living with HIV was evident when the delegation met with the HIV Equity Tribunal that has been established to increase access to justice for people affected by HIV. The Tribunal takes on civil cases of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and is one of the first of its kind in the world.

The delegation also met with representatives of key populations at higher risk, which account for 30% of HIV transmission in the country. “Despite a restrictive legal environment for men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs, Kenya has shown that programmes can be extended to key populations at higher risk with the commitment of national AIDS authorities,” said Nadia Rafif, the PCB NGO representative for Africa.

As Kenya’s AIDS response is reliant on external funding–more than 80%—the delegation welcomed the commitment of the Kenyan government to address the issue of sustainable financing and increase domestic resource allocation for HIV.