by Naftali Mwaura
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Sally Agallo was
at the peak of her career two decades ago when the loss of two
babies and a series of opportunistic infections compelled her to
undergo a HIV test.
The 50-year-old grassroots
campaigner suffered depression upon discovering that she had the
AIDS virus while separation with her husband and loss of a
well-paying job became addition to her litany of woes.
Agallo has battled severe infections ranging from
tuberculosis, herpes and pneumonia due to low immunity and
during a routine check-up five years ago, the outspoken health
advocate was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
"The twin challenge of living with the AIDS virus and
cervical cancer can be overwhelming but I am slowly learning how
to handle it through palliative care and emotional support from
family and friends," said Agallo.
She spoke at the just concluded national HIV and AIDS forum
in Nairobi where senior policymakers, researchers and
campaigners decried the rising toll of non-communicable diseases
like cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure on HIV positive
Agallo is among an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans living with
AIDS but are now grappling with an onslaught of lifestyle
diseases despite improved defenses occasioned by adherence to
"It was a shocker to discover that I had stage three cervical
cancer shortly after doctors told me that my viral load was
negligible thanks to antiretroviral drugs and proper diet," said
She revealed that her savings have been depleted because of
costly treatment of cervical cancer and she is often forced to
rely on close relatives and other well-wishers for a bailout.
"A single chemotherapy cost a fortune not counting other
incidentals like transport and medicine to suppress pain. In
short, escaping from financial stress has been a mirage due to
exorbitant cost of treating two dreaded terminal illnesses,"
Kenya’s ambitious goal of eliminating HIV and AIDS by 2030
could become a pipedream as non-communicable diseases take a
heavier toll on people living with the virus.
Sicily Kariuki, cabinet secretary for health, acknowledged
that the milestone attained in AIDS prevention, treatment and
management is being rolled back by non-communicable diseases
like cancers and diabetes.
"It is clear that HIV positive individuals have suffered
disproportionately from a host of non-communicable diseases
hence the need to realign our policy and funding interventions
to this emerging challenge," said Kariuki.
She said the government will leverage on research, capacity
development for health workers and public education to
strengthen management of lifestyle diseases among people living
The cabinet secretary said that universal health insurance
will ensure that Kenyans living with AIDS who have contracted
non-communicable diseases are able to access quality treatment
Nelson Otwoma, a HIV positive middle aged campaigner said
that policymakers should come up with innovative strategies to
boost response to the challenge of cancer and diabetes affecting
Kenyans infected with the AIDS virus.
"It is apparent that even HIV positive individuals who have
achieved viral suppression are at higher risk of cancer compared
to their counterparts with negative status," said Otwoma.
"We therefore appeal to policymakers and donors to come up
with non-communicable diseases’ interventions that are tailor
made for people living with AIDS," he added.
Otwoma who also doubles up as the national coordinator for
Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, said the state
health insurer should develop a package for this group that is
vulnerable to non-communicable diseases.
"The government should subsidize treatment of terminal
illness like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and all forms of cancer to avert
unnecessary loss of lives," said Otwoma.
He said that investments in modern diagnostic equipment,
public education and palliative care are key to boost management
of non-communicable diseases affecting people living with AIDS.
James Kamau, coordinator of Kenya Treatment Access Movement
who has lived with HIV and AIDS for close to three decades said
that policy reform combined with robust advocacy is key to
reduce the burden of cancer and diabetes among HIV positive
"We require a progressive set of policies and advocacy that
targets grassroots communities to ensure non-communicable
diseases are embedded in national HIV response strategies," said
Government statistics indicate that non-communicable diseases
account for about 50 percent of hospital admissions in Kenya.
Andrew Mulwa, a practicing doctor said that cancers, diabetes
and kidney stones are likely to overtake infectious diseases
like tuberculosis and pneumonia to become leading killers of
people living with AIDS.