By Melisa Mong’ina
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, in collaboration with the Technical University of Kenya, has celebrated World AIDS Day with the theme Let Communities Lead. Mental health has been mentioned as one of the major reasons leading to more HIV deaths in the country.
Speaking to the students in Nairobi during the World AIDS Day celebration, Dr. Josephine Kinya, a clinical neurophysiologist at Equity Afia, noted that in most cases, a lot of people succumb to HIV due to mental health, thus making it very crucial. She urged them to care for themselves by getting tested and to also show love and compassion to their loved ones or friends who are trying to cope with HIV.
“We should look after ourselves, grasp the situation, and get tested. It’s important to show love and compassion to our loved ones and friends dealing with this condition. We have connected this condition with mental health because often, people facing it also deal with mental health challenges. So, taking care of our mental well-being is just as vital as managing the condition,” said Dr. Josephine.
According to Dr. Josephine, the most common mental health condition that a lot of people living with HIV experience in their spaces is depression, which is caused by the negative thoughts that they get. Such thoughts kill their hope of living, leading to severe depression.
“Now we are dealing with severe depression. The most widespread mental health issue among people with HIV in our community is depression. How we think about depression is that we get a negative thought, like I think I’m going to die, and we build it, and we are working on it, and by then or later we are not even living that,” explained Dr. Josephine.
She also noted that depression is not the only common mental health condition that affects people living with HIV; therefore, they should be able to understand the relationship between mental health and HIV and AIDS so that they may be able to manage it.
“After the depression, there are other common mental health conditions that we find in people living with HIV. So understanding mental health and the relationship between mental health and how we manage HIV and AIDS is vital,” she added.
Dr. Josephine emphasized the importance of getting tested, noting that HIV is not only transmitted through sex but also from salons, barbershops, or even through birth; thus, self-care is vital.
She further urged people to be kind and loving towards people with HIV by not discriminating against them, which will help extend their lives.
“Let’s stop treating these patients differently. Instead, let’s care for them and show them love. When we do that, we can help them live longer. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health. We can lead a good life by doing these things,” stated Dr. Josephine.
According to Benjamin Muchiri, Senior Manager, National Accounts Statistics (KNBS), the 2022 DHS statistics show that 1,294,339 people are living with HIV, of whom 89% have managed to use proper medication. There are 62% of new HIV cases among adolescents. The statistics also show that Kenya is ranked 6th worldwide for recording the highest number of HIV deaths.
“In Kenya, as of 2022, about 1,294,339 people are living with HIV. Among them, 89% have successfully controlled the virus with ARVs. Something important to note is that there are 62 new infections each week among adolescents,” shared Mr. Benjamin.
Mr. Benjamin highlighted that the government should provide new friendly sexual and reproductive health programmes, including health reduction programmes for those injecting drugs, and it is supposed to play a big role in the implementation and monitoring of the evolution of HIV prevention.
“The government should address legal barriers in existing sexual and reproductive health policies. It needs to promote responsible sexual behavior through comprehensive sex education and actively participate in implementing and monitoring HIV prevention strategies. Additionally, the government should introduce new, accessible sexual and reproductive health programmes, including harm reduction initiatives for those using injected drugs,” explained Mr. Benjamin.
Prof. Dorcas Yole, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology at TUK, encouraged students by stating that individuals with HIV can still achieve their goals and make meaningful contributions to the family or community.
“HIV is with us; HIV is real; HIV is a killer, but you can contribute to the community, you can contribute to your family, and you can also reach your highest goals even if you have HIV,” said Prof. Dorcas.