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“We want our young people to have fun during the Safari Rally, but fun that’s responsible.”
At dusk on Saturday, two male university students were desperately searching for the stand offering HIV tests near Naivasha’s Buffalo Mall, where an overnight Safari Rally party took place.

“We regularly test,” they said.

This message appeared to have resonated with many Safari Rally fans this year. The National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) said it reached more than 10,000 young people with HIV tests.

Many also received prevention services such as condoms, and information about pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs (Prep), which prevent infection when taken several days before exposure.

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“We want our young people to have fun, but fun that’s responsible,” said Dr Ruth Masha, CEO of the NSDCC.

“Last year there was hue and cry but this year it had to be different.”

This year, the council deployed more than 100 of its staff and community health promoters in six spectator sections of the rally.

They carried condoms, HIV tests kits, and gave talks on PREP and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) drugs, which must be taken within 72 hours after exposure to prevent infection.

“We didn’t want this Safari Rally to take us by surprise,” Dr Masha said. “We have made a lot of progress and did not want that progress to be rolled back.”

Most of the spectators at the Safari Rally are young people, an age group Dr Masha said is most affected by HIV.

She said the latest HIV statistics showed 75 per cent of all new infections every year (22,000) happen among young people aged 15-35.

She said infections in this age group are also fueled by alcohol and drug abuse.

“Especially the injecting drug users. Statistics by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), show 26,000 young people are injecting drugs users nationally. They are four to five more likely to get HIV,” she said.

Masha also warned against the growing misuse of post-exposure prophylaxis.

She noted they have confirmed one of the biggest fears about PEP, which is that some people would practise unsafe sexual knowing that PEP will prevent them from becoming infected.

In general, Kenya is on course to end HIV/Aids as a public health threat by 2027 as directed by President William Ruto.

Analysis of last year’s data from the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council showed 13 counties have cut new HIV infections by nearly half in one year.

Mombasa, which reduced new infections by 52 per cent between 2021 and 2022, led the pack.

Nationally, new infections reduced by 78 per cent from 101,448 in 2013 to 22,154 in 2022.

“Kenya has also seen a substantial decline in new HIV cases, further complemented by the expansion of access to ART medicine. Approximately 1.2 million individuals have been accessing treatment since 2013,” NSDCC boss Dr Masha said late last year.

She said as part of the government’s vision to eradicate Aids by 2030, Kenya is committed to provide comprehensive treatment.

The country will also allow individuals living with HIV to lead full, quality lives akin to managing chronic illnesses.

“As a country, some of the milestones we have had is because we have remained at the centre of scientific advancement. No HIV research has been done without experts from Kenya’s contribution, both at the national and international levels,” she said.

Reducing new infections is critical to ending HIV as an epidemic.

It also saves money because maintaining one HIV-positive person on ARVs for one year currently costs Sh24,000 according to NSDCC.

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