A brief History of AIDS in Kenya
HIV began to reach epidemic levels in Kenya in the early 1980s. “The accelerated spread in the region was due to a combination of widespread labor migration, high ratio of men in the urban populations, low status of women, lack of circumcision, and prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases."
Because not much was known about HIV/AIDS in the mid-1980s, people were often not aware that they were infected with HIV until they had progressed to the final stages of the disease, when death was often imminent. This fact, coupled with the lack of any effective preventative therapies or treatment, meant that there was a reluctance to be tested for the virus. With a few notable exceptions, the 1980s were characterized by an insufficient response to AIDS in Africa. Often government capacity was saturated by immediate economic concerns, war, or political crisis.
In 1996, the effective combination therapy known as HAART became available for those living with HIV in wealthier countries. The new drugs were so effective that AIDS death rates in developed countries dropped by 84% over the next four years.
However, as the South African Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma pointed out, "most people infected with HIV live in Africa, where therapies involving combinations of expensive antiviral drugs are out of the question." At a cost of $10,000-15,000 per person per year, it would cost sub-Saharan countries between 9% and 67% of their GDP to provide triple combination therapy to everybody living with HIV in their countries.
In 2000, after mounting pressure to make AIDS drugs more accessible to Africans, five pharmaceutical companies offered to negotiate steep reductions in the prices of AIDS drugs for Africa and other poor regions. [But] AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007 alone, 1.6 million people died of AIDS.
"As a consequence of the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa," one report stated, "it is estimated that more than 18 million people have died to date, of which over 3 million were children. Additionally, more than 25 million adults are currently infected which will result in the continued increase in the number of orphaned children.
To date, more than 15 million children have already been orphaned as a result of the epidemic. Another 1 million children are currently infected with the disease." Each day in Sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of young children are dying. The saddest part about this incredible crisis is that many of these deaths are happening needlessly. “[W]ar, AIDS, and famine have brought to Africa an entirely new concept, children with no family members, no blood relatives, no extended family members. No elders to care for them, they are lost and bereft in a cruel world, and no one seems to care.”1