Halting the Feminization of AIDS: Lessons from Kenya

A mother and daughter at Emma's clinic (Amanda Cary/PHR)

This is the second post in the Health Action AIDS Campaign’s March weekly blog series highlighting the need to integrate family planning and HIV/AIDS services.

In our last blog post, we talked about the idea of a one-stop shop where people can come to one health facility and receive multiple services during the same visit. In many places around the world, including Kenya, this is much more than a matter of convenience. Accessing services in a one stop shop could mean the difference receiving or not receiving life-saving health interventions. In the context of the AIDS epidemic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, service integration has never been more important.

Emma is a nurse who works at a small health centre in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya. Emma pioneered the integration of HIV counseling and testing into family planning services for women who visited her facility, matching up the services she offered with her own, holistic view of the clients who came.

Emma’s capacity to provide VCT with family planning services for her clients demonstrates how integration can protect women in the fight against AIDS. By offering both family planning services and counseling and testing for HIV to every client, Emma contributes to efforts to decrease the number of unintended or high risk pregnancies; improve access to vitally important HIV prevention and educational programs; allow for early detection of HIV and referral to care and treatment; and, if required, ease entry to prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services for HIV+ mothers.

This is why Mary comes to Emma’s health center instead of her own, closer health facility. When Mary arrives here with her infant daughter Beatrice, she can get a full package of care. Mary has her reproductive health needs met, and she can feel confident that her other needs, such as HIV counseling and testing, will also be met.

Anne, another client at Emma’s health center, feels the same way. Anne tells other women to come to the health center because after getting HIV counseling and testing “they can be free, just as I am free.” Both Mary and Anne, through regular visits for family planning, have been counseled and receive regular HIV tests.

Now, they both want to bring their husbands to be tested at the facility. This type of comprehensive care has ripple effects. By skipping a small stone across the pond, the waves have eventually reached the farthest shores, bringing men and women together to ensure family health.

An integrated response that addresses both HIV infection risk and reproductive health for women is a practical, efficient and effective way to improve women’s access to health services. For example, by integrating family planning and HIV/AIDS VCT services, women have more opportunities to learn about ways to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancies.

Emma’s clients, through regular visits for family planning, have been counseled and receive regular HIV tests. Women have even started to bring their husbands to be tested at the facility as well. Creating a one-stop shop doesn’t just make accessing health care easier, it can also make services better and the prevention stronger and can begin to turn the tide on the feminization of AIDS.

Check out our resource library for more information on how integrated services fights AIDS (PDF) by:

  • Contributing to the prevention of new infections
  • Increasing access to health services
  • Easing the strain on the health systems by streamlining resources
  • Decreasing stigma and discrimination and increasing uptake of counseling and testing for women

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