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Kenya: Parish campaign promotes zero mother-to-child transmission

Around 460 people did an HIV test thanks to a door-to-door campaign organised by the Jesuit parish in a poor Nairobi suburb with the aim of promoting zero mother-to-child transmission.

Uzima, a programme of St Joseph the Worker Parish that tackles the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS in Kangemi, organised the campaign to encourage people to go for voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). Each year, around World AIDS Day, Uzima holds a big awareness event called Uzima Day and the campaign on 24 and 25 November was this year’s effort.

“At the end of the two days, 460 persons were tested, 131 for the first time. We hope that each one will speak with four or five others and that the message will be spread that ‘a better world is possible’ where no baby is born with HIV,” said Br Alain Ragneneau, Uzima counsellor.

Kenya’s once steep HIV prevalence rate has dropped dramatically, thanks to government health services and many NGOs. However mother-to-child transmission of HIV remains a pressing problem even if the rate of such transmission declined from 27% in 2007 to 14.9% in 2011. The local media recently reported that research by the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme (Nascop) found many new infections among newborns.

“The first step to limit the calamity of babies born with HIV is for parents to accept to be tested but we know this is difficult for many,” said Br Alain. “If people are not sick, they have little chance of meeting a medic, and a good number do not want to be seen going for an HIV test in their local dispensary. This is why we decided to organize systematic visits of all the houses in one area to encourage people to get to know their status. Not all accepted to be tested but all were ready to speak. At least it is a way to be more aware about the pandemic.”

The campaign was held in the western part of Kangemi around a market where many people pass by. Around 60 people were involved in the organisation, among them counsellors, mobilizers and drivers. All wore black, green, blue and white t-shirts proclaiming the Uzima Day theme Day: “Zero Mother-to-Child Transmission”.

In a small tent, two counsellors got a regular flow of people for testing while 15 others visited the houses around, each accompanied by two mobilizers who knocked at each door to explain what was happening in the neighbourhood that day.

Some people had already taken an HIV test before but took the opportunity to be tested a second time because they didn’t trust their first positive result; others took another test because “you never know what your partner is doing”. Some couples were tested together for the first time.

Two loudspeakers attracted a small crowd; children danced to the rhythm of music while the mistress of ceremonies emphasised again and again how important it is to get tested. She also explained how the Uzima programme helps those who test HIV-positive through its support groups, income-generating activities and savings group. One mother said: “You came too late. My daughter died a couple of months ago and we didn’t know about the services you offer”.

On World AIDS Day itself, 1 December, there was another big event in Kangemi, a medical camp with VCT, which was organised by Uzima, Lea Toto – the community programme of Nyumbani, a foundation that caters to HIV-positive orphans – and other stakeholders.

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