- Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki in a speech to the nation announced that his government has abolished payments for HIV and AIDS drugs at state hospitals, thus offering free anti-retrovirals to Kenyans. Malaria and tuberculosis drugs had been made free of charge earlier. The UN praises Kenya as one of the countries being most successful in the fight against AIDS.
The Kenyan President yesterday was speaking at Nairobi's Nyayo National Stadium on the occasion of Madaraka Day, which marks the achievement of self-governance in 1963 after a long armed struggle. The speech contained a long list of announcements to Kenyans, including free AIDS drugs, higher pensions, new loans for young entrepreneurs, easier access to passports, the construction of more police stations, etc.
In midst of the many announcements, President Kibaki's references to the health sector however made the largest headlines in the Kenyan press today. Saying malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS remain a serious threat, the Kenyan President said the government was currently providing free drugs for the treatment of malaria and TB.
He further announced that the government has also "waived, with immediate effect, the 100 shillings [euro 1.10] being charged on anti-retroviral drugs in government hospitals and health centres." It was hoped that a larger part of Kenya's 200,000 diagnosed HIV positives now would consider taking the life-prolonging drugs. Currently, only 60,000 of the country's AIDS patients are taking anti-retrovirals, probably due to the costs involved.
The Kenyan Ministry of Health even expects a much greater increase in free anti-retroviral treatment within the next year. While there currently are 200,000 Kenyans cleared for receiving these drugs, the Ministry assesses that some 1.2 million Kenyans are HIV infected, with hundreds dying from the disease every day. Many more would become eligible for anti-retrovirals during the coming months, the government expects.
"While the government is providing both drugs and medical personnel to effectively deal with these health challenges, the long-term solutions lie in preventive measures," President Kibaki however emphasised. He further held that the Kenyan government had made "substantial progress in terms of opening new health centres, improving the conditions of hospitals, provision of drugs and availability of medical personnel."
Also the UN's AIDS agency has recently praised Kenya for its efforts to fight the pandemic. A report by UNAIDS published earlier this week noted significant declines in HIV prevalence in Kenya, saying the rate of infection had dropped from 10 percent in the 1990s to about six percent at present. Other UN reports even maintain that HIV prevalence had dropped from 14 percent in 1997 to only four percent today.
While there is a general agreement that Kenya has effectively fought the spread of AIDS, more and more scientists however doubt the elevated figures used by UNAIDS in the 1990s. Recent reports suggest that the AIDS prevalence rate in Kenya never has reached more than five percent, concluding that the UN was using unprofessional methods to calculate HIV rates.
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