What local media got wrong in latest coverage of the 2012 KAIS report
Here are some of the glaring gaps, wrong and incomplete interpretation of data as local media covered the report.
If you are a woman living in an urban area, there is news for you. Pay more attention if you happen to be living in a town in Nyanza region and you have completed secondary education.
You must now be very interested if you are between 45 to 54 years old because according to the preliminary Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) report, you are either part of the age, gender or other demographic profile with higher HIV prevalence.
In reality, everyone in Kenya is at a high risk of contracting the virus. Kenya is ranked the fourth worst hit in the world by HIV prevalence. Infact, by the end of 2012, one out of every 18 Kenyans was living with the virus. The latest KAIS report sought to find out the areas, gender and other characteristics of segments of the population that have been worst hit by the epidemic.
KAIS evaluates HIV care, treatment and prevention programs in a bid to guide strategies responding to the epidemic. The survey was conducted between October 2012 and February 2013. It was conducted among children and adults aged 18 months to 64 years in 9189 households. It was made public this week.
But behind the raw figures broken down into regions, education levels, sex and ages of Kenyans that had the highest and lowest prevalence of HIV infection, the 2012 report had many interesting stories, providing fodder for media houses to mine as many angles as they had time for.
Generally, all media houses had something covered in their print platforms the following day. Coverage of HIV related stories has also improved over the years, which has helped fight stigma.
However, just like many other data stories, there were some glaring gaps and wrong or incomplete interpretation of data to drill down on what really has been happening in the fight against HIV in the last five years.
On the day the report was released, none of the major dalies led with the stories and almost none of the TV stations had any story on the report, except for K24 in their prime time, 9pm, bulletin. The TV stations were more preoccupied with the trials at The Hague. Though the print versions also prioritized the Hague stories, most spared some good space to report this story.
The Daily Nation reported that the prevalence of HIV and Aids among those aged between 18 and 64 years has dropped from 7.2 to 5.6 percent in the five year period.
The daily went ahead to say that the scourge was reduced in almost all provinces except Nyanza, where they increased from 14.9 per cent in 2007 to 15.1 per cent in 2012. Quoting the report, it added that those aged between 45 and 54 years had the highest prevalence rate at 9.1 per cent. In 2007, it was those aged between 25 and 34 years whore bore the brunt of the disease.
But the Daily Nation report did not seek to explain this shift. Was it because better management of the disease had seen more people survive longer, pushing the prevalence into the old age higher or was it that older people were getting infected much faster? An explanation to this question would have given birth to a whole new story, giving a new perspective to the HIV narrative.
The daily also provided other details including which sex had higher prevalence. Though it reported, correctly so, that women had the highest prevalence of 6.9 per cent compared to men who 4.4 percent, it did not use the opportunity to point out the story that the data was actually telling; prevalence in women dropped much faster than in men. This means that if the trend is maintained in the next ten or so years, men living with HIV would be more or at par with women. This in itself should provide a hint to policy makers to distribute resources more equally among women and men.
For its part, The Standard reported that the push for male circumcision in Nyanza failed to reduce infections. On the face of it, this was the most logical conclusion. In any case, Nyanza registered the highest number of people living with HIV. The intervention was being sold on the fact that uncircumcised men are five times more at risk of contracting the disease compared to their circumcised counterparts. So how do you explain the fact that Nyanza’s prevalence went up from 14.9 per cent to 15.1 per cent? Was it accurate to conclude that the voluntary circumcision efforts had failed when the data did not provide a clear answer?
The intervention may have helped reduce the rate of infection. It may have slowed down the pace. It is possible that prevalence may have been higher had not the intervention been present. Probably it is the data that failed to explain if there was any impact at all. But being a preliminary report, we can only wait for the final report to hopefully get these questions answered. It is fair to point out that I report for the Standard.
Both the Daily Nation and the Standard, the leading local dailies, pointed out in their anchor stories that only Nyanza experienced an increase in prevalence, ignoring Central province that had a similar growth rate. But it is true, Nyanza had the highest HIV prevalence among persons aged 15-64 years, at 15.1 in 2012 from 14.9 in 2007 while Central region’s prevalence grew to 3.8 from 3.6. The rest of the regions registered declines.
Just like The People newspaper, the Business Daily chose the angle of that the rate of infection was higher among the better educated than those who had no primary education. This revelation was not just shocking but begged the question why? None of the papers however had these answers.
The main question that the reports failed to address was why the rate of HIV infection was higher in men and women who had completed any secondary education than those who had not attended primary education?
So is it that the less educated were responding better to messaging or was it that the interventions were not reaching the educated? Was it because more educated people are the ones exposed to risky behaviours than the less educated or was it that the interventions had ignored the educated and instead chosen the less literate members of the society? Or was it that the less educated were generally more receptive to the messaging? The biggest story from the answer to this question would burst the myth that more educated people are at a lower risk of infection and this is a tremendous finding. This is because if there was no other story in the latest report, then this would be the big story.
The Business Daily did not stop there. It also reported, just like the Daily Nation, that the percentage of adults living with HIV is slightly higher among those who live in urban areas compared to those in rural areas. All the papers noted that the prevalence had dropped to 5.6 percent.
The Daily Nation editorial concluded that the efforts to fight HIV had failed because despite the billions sent in the past three years, it noted that Kenya was still rated among the five countries in the world with the highest rate of HIV. Though this was a logical conclusion, just the fact that Kenya was still ranked among the top wasn’t necessarily due to the fact that the interventions had failed. In fact, the report noted that the national prevalence had dropped from 7.2 per cent in 2007 to 5.6 per cent in 2012. This is progress.
Another success is the fact that Knowledge of HIV status among those infected tripled over the last five years due to free testing campaigns, leading to a 100 percent growth in the number of people tested. Just the realization that most Kenyans who had the virus knew that they actually had it was a positive indicator. But above all, the fact that other countries were not just sitting back in the fight means that Kenya would remain in the top five if it intervened at the same level as the rest of the world. This means that Kenya would need to work much harder than the rest of her peers to change her position in ranking.