Don't Get Stuck With HIV

Protect yourself from HIV during healthcare and cosmetic services

HIV Transmission Via Unsafe Medical Injections in Kenya – Significant Risk


Congratulations to Kenya on being one of the first African countries with a serious HIV epidemic to investigate the role of unsafe healthcare and reuse of injecting equipment in transmitting HIV. The study finds that “Men who had received ≥1 injection in the past 12 months (adjusted odds ratio, 3.2; 95% CI: 1.2 to 8.9) and women who had received an injection in the past 12 months, not for family planning purposes (adjusted odds ratio, 2.6; 95% CI: 1.2 to 5.5), were significantly more likely to be HIV infected compared with those who had not received medical injection in the past 12 months.

But these findings make the conclusion of the article all the more striking: “Injection preference [my emphasis] may contribute to high rates of injections in Kenya.” If someone is infected with HIV as a result of receiving an injection, then it is the behavior of the health care practitioner that is at fault, not the ‘preference’ of the patient. Health facilities make more money from procedures such as injections than they do from just giving advice or handing out prescriptions, so there may be good reasons why patients ‘prefer’ injections; they may have been led to believe that injections are ‘better’. I’d also be surprised if mere patient preference made much difference to the kind of treatment a patient received in Kenya or elsewhere in East Africa.

Those providing health services need to take responsibility for healthcare associated HIV transmission, and that includes Ministries of Health, professional bodies, and also the WHO, UNAIDS, CDC and other parties who have dominated health and HIV policy in high HIV prevalence countries for decades. Reuse of syringes, needles and other skin piercing equipment carries a very high risk of transmission of HIV, hepatitis and other pathogens. It is not enough to blame patients for their ‘preferences’. Practitioners can decide what treatment a patient needs and what is the best means of administering it, if that means is available to them.

The paper recommends that “community- and facility-based injection safety strategies be integrated in disease prevention programs”. If this is UN-speak for the need to accept that HIV is frequently transmitted through unsafe healthcare and these practices need to stop, then I wholeheartedly agree. This is more than thirty years too late, but it’s good to hear the very mention of non-sexually transmitted HIV in the form of unsafe healthcare being taken seriously in a peer-reviewed journal. I look forward to hearing of other high HIV prevalence countries making the same ‘discovery’ and publicizing it, and also taking steps to reducing such transmission risks.

[To read more about HIV transmission through unsafe healthcare, have a look at the Don’t Get Stuck With HIV site’s Healthcare Risks for HIV pages.]

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