US says saved 274,000 Kenya infants from HIV deaths

By Gatonye Gathura

The US says it has averted 273,924 HIV related infant deaths in Kenya during a 10-year period, from 2004 to 2014.

A study by various US government agencies and universities says this was made possible through some Sh 25 billion ($248m) from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The money, which the report says funded Kenya’s Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in Kenya, also helped increased HIV testing among women.

The study was published on September 13th, 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network Open).

The work involved Harvard University, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Yale University and Henry M. Jackson Foundation Medical Research International – Kericho, Kenya. The latter is a no-profit research organization associated with the US military.

Using publicly available data, the study says it found evidence that PEPFAR funding was associated with a 14 per cent to 16 per cent reduction in infant mortality in Kenya between 2004 and 2014.

“Between 2004 and 2014, sustained funding could have averted 118 039 to 273 924 infant deaths.”

The study, the authors say joins a growing body of literature that suggests PEPFAR has benefited population health.  

“We found evidence that PEPFAR funding for PMTCT is associated with reduced infant mortality and increased HIV testing during ANC in Kenya.”

Without PMTCT, the report says up to half of the children born to HIV-positive mothers become positive.

 “In poor countries, 50 per cent of HIV-positive children who do not receive treatment die before two years of age,” says the study.

But The Kenya HIV Estimates Report, 2018, released by the Ministry of Health last year said about 132,300 child HIV infections were averted in Kenya between 2004 and 2017.

“As a result of PMTCT scale-up since 2004, about 132,300 child HIV infections have been averted through to 2017,” says the estimates.

In 2017, the Ministry of Health says there were approximately 8,000 new infections among children aged less than 14 years.

“Among children, new infections declined from 13,500 in 2010 to 8,000 in 2017, which shows 41 per cent decline over the period.”

In 2017, the estimates indicate there were 4,312 HIV-related deaths among children aged 0-14 years in Kenya which was about 15 per cent of all total AIDS-related deaths during the year.

About 56 per cent of these deaths occurred in nine of the 47 counties, namely, Homa Bay (420), Nairobi (380), Siaya (372), Kisumu (369), Migori (259), Kakamega (195), Nakuru (174), Busia (142) and Mombasa (124).

The US researches say their investigation on the association between the amount of funding and health outcomes can inform the allocation of future funds.

The PEPFAR has already indicated it will be reducing funding to Kenya by about Sh16 billion starting next month. This means a drop from Sh52 billion in 2018 to about Sh36 billion in 2019.

The US justifies the drop in funding to what it says are huge successes in bringing down the threat of HIV to controllable levels.