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January 23, 2008

Political Unrest Linked to Poor HIV Care

In an address to the United Nations executive board, head of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan said that Kenya’s struggle to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases is being made more difficult by post-election political unrest in the East African country, reports Reuters Africa (, 1/21).

Violence following a disputed Kenyan election in December resulted in an increased incidence of gang rapes in parts of the country. At the end of last year, 19 women—in addition to some men and boys—were admitted to Nairobi Women’s Hospital reporting they were sexually assaulted, putting them at greater risk for HIV infection. The turmoil is affecting Kenyans living with HIV as well, as many have been forced to abandon their homes without their antiretroviral medications, increasing the risk of drug resistance due to interrupted therapy.

Speaking before a 34-member board at a preparatory meeting for the WHO’s World Health Assembly, which will be held in May, Chan said, “We are seeing right now some stark evidence of the threat arising from instability and civil unrest.”

In addition to discussing the impact of an unstable political climate on Kenyans already living with and newly exposed to AIDS, Chan spoke of additional threats posed to this population by the region’s changing and unstable climate. Chan alerted international health experts that, as early as 2020, the region could be severely affected by ”droughts, floods, storms, heat-waves, air pollution, malnutrition, displaced populations, and water-borne and vector-borne disease.” She cautioned leaders in attendance to remain prepared.

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