* This post was written jointly with Nandini Oomman
We were fortunate to attend a World AIDS Day event in Nairobi this morning sponsored by the National AIDS Control Council, the Kenyan government's HIV/AIDS coordinating body. It was a celebration of sorts - dancing and singing, balloons and banners. Speakers, including the Minister of Health and Vice President, noted that Kenya has seen a recent drop in its prevalence rate, albeit a small one. They attributed part of this achievement to a strong partnership with civil society. And indeed, there was a strong civil society presence at the event. Community-based organizations from all over Kenya had booths displaying their work and the representatives of these groups spoke knowledgeably about programs in prevention, treatment and care.
A couple of other interesting notes about the booths at the event: condoms and condom machines were prominently displayed at a number of the tables we visited. Also, almost every ministry had a table at the event with materials on how they are addressing HIV/AIDS. As soon as we saw a table for the Ministry of Internal Revenue (i.e. the tax guys), we knew that there was a genuine attempt at showing a multi-sectoral response to the epidemic.
The event was celebratory in part, but all of the keynote speakers were quick to emphasize that Kenya still has a long road ahead. Special emphasis was placed on the need to expand prevention activities, especially behavior change programs. The Vice President's speech was particularly impressive: addressing the crowd in Swahili without notes (following prepared remarks he made in English), the VP stressed the importance of mainstreaming HIV/AIDS programs across all government ministries. He also noted that the Kenyan Government is working hard to reduce its dependence on external funding for HIV/AIDS programs (although he was short on specifics).
So the messages were all on-target, and that's great. But, of course, the immediate question in our minds is whether these messages are being incorporated into the implementation of HIV/AIDS activities across the country. Today is World AIDS day, but it is the work done on all the other days of the year that are the real key to beating the epidemic.