Kenya: Grappling with AIDS

  • International staff: 41
  • National staff: 750 Kenya's HIV/AIDS statistics are frightening: one in fourteen Kenyans has the disease, and in the capital, Nairobi, this rate jumps to one in seven. It is spreading fast, especially because HIV is still difficult to discuss and few people are willing to take a test. In Kenya, those with AIDS are often treated like outcasts. "People die fast here, with less dignity than if they died from other diseases," says Dr. Christopher Ouma, who works for MSF at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi, which receives many patients from the slum areas where MSF works. "People know what AIDS is. And what it means. Most patients here have just been abandoned." MSF has AIDS projects in the capital, Nairobi, and in Busia and Homa Bay. Improving the quality of life for those with AIDS MSF's work with AIDS patients in Nairobi is intended to improve the quality of their lives. Teams train health workers and organize comprehensive care in patients' homes (in the slum areas of Dandora and Kibera), Mbagathi Hospital and several health centers. MSF offers psychological support and social assistance, which sometimes means paying rent or school fees for family members of those with AIDS. The organization also works within Ministry of Health structures, providing training and supervision and supplying drugs. In June 2000, MSF started an HIV/AIDS program in the district of Busia in the Western Province. The project focuses on reducing HIV transmission, home-based care for AIDS patients and work with local groups to develop income-generating activities. Further south, on the banks of Lake Victoria, MSF has run an AIDS/tuberculosis (TB) program at Homa Bay Hospital since 1996. Homa Bay boasts HIV rates of 35% among young women alone - and 60% of those are estimated to have tuberculosis, the biggest AIDS-related killer. Many women come to the harbor to sell sex for food to willing fishermen. HIV spreads quickly in this environment, as does the TB which often accompanies it. MSF cares for TB patients at Homa Bay Hospital and also works at hospitals and clinics in Marindi, Pala and God Kojowe, areas of Homa Bay. Disease, drought and refugees HIV is not the only problem Kenya faces. In summer 2000, MSF launched a project to fight the disease kala azar in the Dadaab area of Kenya. Malaria is also a recurring problem, especially in and around Kisumu. This year MSF set up an emergency preparedness program in Kisii, which includes systematic malaria testing, treatment and epidemiological analysis. Northern and eastern Kenya were badly affected by the hunger crisis that touched the Horn of Africa in late 1999 and early 2000. MSF responded with supplementary food distributions in Turkana. Further east, in Mandera and Dadaab, MSF provides health care and nutrition programs for Somali refugees who have fled their country's civil war. Urban health care MSF has urban primary health care projects in the Nairobi slum areas of Matharé, Kibera and Dandora. The programs encompass basic access to care, primary care and dispensaries, and involve cooperation with local community organizations. Programs in Matharé and Dandora have an additional emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Organizing for access to medicine In June 2000, government officials and civil representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, and participants from 17 other countries met in Nairobi to discuss the problem of adequate access to medicines in East Africa. This conference, organized by MSF, is part of the organization's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, launched in 1999. MSF has set up a coordination office for the campaign in Nairobi.