Feature story

Kenya: leadership and innovation for results in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV

26 July 2018

A meeting at the 2018 International AIDS Conference, being held from 23 to 27 July in Amsterdam, Netherlands, has showcased how Kenya is responding to the challenges and opportunities on the way towards validation of the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in a high-burden context. 

Building on the Start Free Stay Free AIDS Free framework, specific attention is being given in Kenya to ensuring access to treatment for children and adolescents living with HIV, while addressing inequities, particularly among adolescent girls and young women.

The participants heard about the role of high-level champions—including community leaders, parents, religious leaders and other relevant stakeholders—highlighting the need for action at all levels, based on robust programmatic data.

Kenya has made significant progress in preventing new HIV infections among children, which fell from an estimated 13 000 in 2010 to 8000 in 2017. This has been possible through programmes such as the mentor mother initiative, which supports and cares for women living with HIV, the mother–baby pair approach, which synchronizes appointments for the mother and the child at the health facility, and audits of every child exposed to HIV in order to identify barriers in accessing health facilities.

The leadership of Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, and her Beyond Zero Campaign have been instrumental in raising awareness on the importance of services to promote the health of mothers and children, including HIV prevention.

The participants heard, however, that more needs to be done to ensure that progress is equal across the country. Progress has been threatened by recent challenges, such as a health workers strike, which has affected antenatal care and testing coverage, and reduced community support, which has affected demand creation for HIV services.

The participants decided that there was an urgent need to scale up HIV programmes. This would be complemented by innovations in tracking the targets for paediatric and adolescent HIV and accounting for every mother and child. Furthermore, the resilience of the health system needs to be strengthened.

The meeting, held on 24 July, was jointly organized by the Ministry of Health of Kenya, UNAIDS and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.


“As I reflect on the great gains Kenya has made, what is worrying in the last few years is the widening gap in terms of increased infections among adolescents, especially among young women. The challenges of some of the efforts made, for women especially, mean that our investments in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV may be wiped out in two decades.”

Margaret Kenyatta First Lady of Kenya

“Every child has the right to be born free from HIV. And every child living with HIV should receive life-saving treatment to stay AIDS-free. And every young person should be supported to stay free from HIV. We cannot leave any child or mother behind.”

Michel Sidibé Executive Director, UNAIDS

“Adopting innovations, such as point-of-care HIV testing with nearly immediate results, is critical to support us young women living with HIV to access the services we need. Programmers and service providers need to listen to our needs and concerns.”

Lucy Wanjiru Njenga mentor mother, Kenya

“Progress shown by the data from Homa Bay, Kenya, to reduce new paediatric infections is a powerful message from the highest prevalence county in one of the highest burden countries. If we can do it in Homa Bay, we can do it anywhere.”

Chip Lyons Chief Executive Officer and founder, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation