HIV+ Kenyans stock up for elections

With the 2013 elections around the corner, many are coming to collect their drugs early to ensure that, should the worst happen, they will be prepared.

NAIROBI — When violence broke out following the announcement of Kenya’s poll results in 2007, Henry Mwiterere and his family fled to safety shortly before their house, in the Rift Valley town of Burnt Forest, was burned to the ground.


Mwiterere, who has lived with HIV for over a decade, escaped with his life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), but many people were not so lucky. They were forced to abandon their ARVs in the frenzy, missing several days’ doses and risking drug-resistance in the process.

This time around, Mwiterere — who is a support worker with the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, an organisation that treats more than 140 000 HIV positive people in western Kenya — says patients are much more aware. With the 2013 general election just around the corner, many are coming to collect their drugs early to ensure that, should the worst happen, they will be prepared.

“We now give patients drugs every three months and we’ve seen patients coming early to collect them. Although we’ve seen movement — people from Kisumu, for instance, are leaving Nakuru to go home where they feel safer — people are getting their drugs and taking them with them.”

Health service providers are doing their best to make sure their patients are not left stranded. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is caring for 10 500 HIV-positive people in Nyanza Province’s Homa Bay and 2 400 in the Nairobi slum of Mathare, as well as hundreds of tuberculosis (TB) patients at both sites, will be operating with a full staff and with extra staff on stand-by throughout the election period. The organisation has also made preparations to provide additional first aid and trauma care should it be required.

“In anticipation of possible election-related violence, we started to modify our patient appointments. Since September 2012, we’ve been adjusting their schedules to ensure that we have minimum consultations in the two weeks around the election and patients have the required medications during this period,” Hajir Elyas, deputy medical co-ordinator for MSF, told IRIN.

“We have ordered extra supplies and medications that are provided by MSF to cover for a couple of months, but we have also liaised with the Ministry of Health, which supplies our ARVs, to create a buffer stock of medication during this period,” she added.

In early 2008, MSF was able to organise mobile teams to supply health centres with additional medication; these will also be available this year, as will a 24-hour hotline for patients who find themselves without medication or the means to reach a health centre.

“Political violence highly increases women and even men’s . . . risk of sexual violence and of sexual transmitted infections such as HIV.”

Joseph Sitienei, from the National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme, told IRIN that the government had provided additional stocks of HIV and TB medication to its health facilities ahead of the polls.

“Emergencies seriously disrupt people’s treatment process, and with diseases like TB or HIV, where adherence is critical, the consequences of such disruptions are even more severe. We realise that,” he told IRIN.

“We have greatly decentralised (stocks of) both TB and HIV medicine so that they can be easily accessible during this period. The government has issued a circular to all health facilities to ensure that they all have medicines that can last for one more month over the three months of stocks they normally receive.”

He said health centres had also advised patients to carry their patient cards — issued by their primary health facility and containing their history and treatment regimens — at all times so that they would be able to access their medication from the closest government-run health facility in the event of an emergency.

Another major problem following the last election was the high level of sexual violence. Women, men and children experienced rape and sexual assault, with many contracting sexually transmitted infections and suffering post-traumatic stress. Few of these cases were prosecuted; on February 21, eight survivors of sexual violence committed during that period took the government to court over its failure to protect them or investigate the crimes committed against them.

“Political violence highly increases women and even men’s… risk of sexual violence and of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV,” said Saida Ali, the executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women.

She said the Peace Initiative Kenya, a coalition of civil society groups, were distributing dignity kits — containing reusable sanitary towels, cotton wool, a kanga (sarong), reusable baby nappies, underwear, petroleum jelly and soap — to hospitals in Nairobi to support women who may suffer sexual violence. They have also donated post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) — a course of ARVs given to people recently exposed to HIV to reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus — to a hospital in the capital and to one in the Rift Valley.

She stressed, however, that the onus was on the government to ensure that survivors of sexual violence were able to access emergency medical treatment.


  1. how about the Zimbabwean government are you ready

  2. Dear Ed,

    We are ll in this together.
    If you recall the last elections were the devil’s trinity which started in Kenya, then Zimbabwe and ended in the Ivory Coast. These three countries showed such great promise as they were considered much better politically and economically than their other counterparts in Africa. What followed after the bloodied rock rolled down the slopes of Mount Kenya was a HORROR freak show that visited the whole continent. Thousands were murdered, injured and displaced when it is alleged Mr. Kibaki refused to vacate the seat after losing to Odinga, the same script was repeated in Zimbabwe and crowned in the Ivory Coast. Two senior politicos who participated in the election are currently indicted at the ICC. These are Gbabo who also refused to vacate the seat of power when he lost and one Kenyatta who seemed to believe that he owns the presidency in Kenya. In Zimbabwe as in Kenya a government of three parties is in office.

    Now as the 4th of March draws close how can the media assist in making sure that the last script is not repeated..? By starting early, to expose all the rot in the election in Kenya. Please give us a daily account of what is happening in Kenya as has been proven previously, it has a bearing on our elections here. It is in our interest as Zibwes that the election in Kenya is conducted without bloodshed..this way we can hope to hold a bloodless election here too. Ominous signs of the danger elections pose to the body are already being seen in the dastard murder of a young boy Christpowers when the election is 4 months away, what will happen when the actual dy draws closer? Please shine your light on Kenya and Zimbabwe..let it SHINE!!!! Let those with a taste for neighbours’ blood start to acquire a taste for wine (share it with the same neighbours?) as the elections draw closer in the two neighbourhoods, which outside, this have shown such great promise. By exposing those evil in our midst you will be pushing the coninent’s democratic agenda forward.

    Please play your part. I have faith you will succeed as you have in the past, God bless both Kenya and Zimbabwe.

  3. Oh by the way is it not a tad incongruous that the three countries are quite famous for assisting in neighbouring countries to bring peace therein? The Kenyans are doing a wonderful job in Somalia which up until their intervention was the definition of hell on earth earning worldwide accolades and the gratefulness of a sickened world. The Ivory Coast had become home to all the poor neighbours who had fled their countries from poverty and repression. Zimbabwe occupies a high seat on the continent bringing back peace to Mozambicans who were literally at each others throats, today our people are finding work in Mozambique. We are getting our electricity from the sme source and our trucks are doing roaring business bringing in much needed fuel from Beira port, “Thank you Zimbabwe!” After the mad idiot vampire in Zaire, one Mobuto vacated the thrown to let the Zaireans eat each other in broad daylight, Zimbabwe was in the forefront of putting out the fire there. So Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ivory Coast occupy high moral ground in the African body politic hence the urgent need for peaceful elections in both Kenya and Zimbabwe. They owe it to themselves that their internal elections trumpet TOLERANCE of different views..the media has to be on hand to make SURE these elections are conducted with a modicum of decorum!

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