By Gatonye Gathura
The high HIV infection rates in Kenya may be highly exaggerated shows data presented on Monday at an international conference in Boston, US.
Regional HIV data collected recently by the Ministry of Health and US agencies in Western Kenya shows prevalence to be much lower than cited in official estimates.
The model used to calculate the official prevalence rates, the researchers say was inadequate and had led to significant overestimates.
The data presented by Kevin De Cock, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Kenya (CDC-K) showed official HIV estimates in some pockets to be 80 per cent over what they have found on the ground.
The team is recommending that their approach be incorporated in the next national HIV prevalence estimates, an exercise that starts later this year.
If adopted and the numbers found to have been overestimated nationwide this would have huge implications on HIV in Kenya.
The new study involved officials from Kemri, CDC-Kenya, National Aids Control Council, the National AIDS & STI Control Programme and University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Led by Peter W. Young of CDC the team had compared the official HIV estimates with information they have collected from the ground in Western Kenya using several data sets.
Between 2011and 2016 the team had tested over 15,627 persons aged 15-49 years in western Kenya, results now they say show significant discrepancies with official estimates. The team also used data from routine antenatal HIV test results.
“The data source used to establish official estimates in Kenya – a UNAIDS-supported spectrum model – in 2015 may have over-estimated true adult HIV prevalence in Western Kenya counties,” Peter Young of CDC explained to the Standard on Tuesday.
These overestimates, Young says may have led to an inaccurate understanding of the number of people who know their HIV status and overall ARV coverage among people living with HIV.
Official estimates shows Nyanza to have the highest HIV prevalence rates in Kenya at 16.1 per cent compared to the national average of about six per cent. The new study puts HIV prevalence in Nyanza at 12.6 per cent.
Homa Bay County for example with 26.6 HIV prevalence rates, the highest in the country the new data puts this at 19.9 per cent.
In some pockets the data shows national estimates to be between 11 and 82 per cent higher than the national estimates.
This however is not the first time national HIV data has been challenged by scientists.
Prior to 2003 the national HIV prevalence was estimated at 14 per cent. However the 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey did a population based HIV testing revising the prevalence to 6.7 per cent.
Since 2003 the national HIV prevalence has remained between 6 and 7 per cent indicating the fight against the disease may have stagnated in the last 14 years.
But in December during the World Aids Day former Cabinet Secretary for Health Cleopa Mailu claimed Kenya has made impressive progress against HIV epidemic dropping the prevalence from 13 per cent a decade ago to 6 per cent today.
National estimates % News Study %
Nyanza 16.1 12.5
Siaya 24.8 17.1
Homa Bay 26.0 19.7
Kisumu 19.9 15.6
Pregnant women 16.6 12.5
Gem 24.8 14.9