How a Kenyan County is Coping with the HIV Epidemic

A patient being attended to by a nurse at St. Catherine Mission Dispensary in Lodwar in Turkana County, Kenya.

Eric Kilongi/EGPAF

Last week (July 15-19), EGPAF hosted four journalists in Turkana, Kenya—the country’s largest county, widely known for its vast natural resources. Located in northern Kenya and bordering South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, Turkana County recently shot to fame after the discovery of substantial deposits of oil. Unfortunately, the county also has one of the lowest health rankings in Kenya and the sixth-highest HIV rate out of all 47 counties. During our visit, the journalists received a firsthand account of how people living with HIV in Turkana cope with the virus while facing other challenges, such as food scarcity and hunger.

We visited Lodwar, Kakuma, and Lokichoggio, the county’s three largest towns and where the majority Turkana’s HIV-positive population can access treatment. Due to the residents’ nomadic lifestyle, the region’s expansive terrain, insecurity caused by cattle raids and crime, and other socio-economic challenges, Turkana’s HIV response has lagged compared to other counties in Kenya.

We also saw how the government’s Lodwar prison is confronting the HIV epidemic head-on by providing HIV, tuberculosis, and other health services to inmates and staff. A 2008 report classifies inmates as one of the most at-risk populations for HIV infection.

In Lokichoggio and Kakuma, we learned how psychosocial support groups are helping pregnant women learn about HIV, start treatment, and prevent mother-to-child transmission HIV.
Despite the challenges, Turkana County is steadily making progress in its fight against HIV, with the support of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in partnership with the U.S.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and ViiV Healthcare. Sites providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) and diagnostic services for HIV-exposed infants have increased by three fold
since October 2010 and sites providing interventions to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV have more than doubled, according to EGPAF.

We look forward to stories from our guests, and hope news coverage will help fast-track health and HIV responses in Turkana.

Eric Kilongi is Senior Communications Officer for the Foundation, based in Nairobi, Kenya.