(New York) - The new Kenyan National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan should address rights abuses that make children vulnerable to HIV infection and impede access to care, Human Rights Watch said today in a policy proposal submitted to the government. The organization pointed out that tens of thousands of children in Kenya who need anti-retroviral treatment (ART) are not receiving it. The Kenyan National Aids Control Council (NACC) is currently preparing its new five-year strategic plan.
"It is time for Kenya to recognize that basic human rights issues have to be part of all HIV strategy, policy, and programming," said Juliane Kippenberg, senior researcher in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "HIV/AIDS strategies in Kenya too often focus only on medical care itself. Steps to promote and protect human rights need to take place in tandem with steps that improve medical care if the strategy is going to be successful."
About half of adult Kenyans who need anti-retroviral treatment are receiving it, compared to an estimated one-third of children who need such treatment. In its submission, Human Rights Watch focused on children's rights and HIV and called on the Kenyan government to improve children's access to testing and treatment.
Anti-retroviral treatment for children is often offered only at central health facilities, and not at local ones, making transportation costs a significant barrier to access. Frequently, children are also not taken for testing by their caregivers because of the stigma attached to the illness, misinformation, neglect, or lack of resources.
"Many children are falling through the cracks when it comes to testing and treatment," Kippenberg said. "Health facilities should offer testing to all children below the age of 5, and all children whose mothers are HIV-positive or who have died of the disease."
Many children living with HIV are orphans or vulnerable children who suffer abuse and neglect by their caregivers or others. The current child-protection system, which lacks adequate staff and other resources, does not reach many of these children. The existing network of community health workers is too small and underfunded to ensure that abused and neglected children are afforded access to HIV services.
Human Rights Watch also called on the Kenyan government to strengthen the child protection system and the country's community health strategy. It also said that the need to provide patients with adequate food should be part of the HIV/AIDS strategy, as side effects from taking the drugs without adequate food often cause patients to stop taking the drug.