Life expectancy has reduced drastically from 63 in 1990 to 44 as a result of the impact of HIV and AIDs. However, prevalence rates have reduced significantly from 13.6 in 1997 to just under six per cent in 2006. The decline is attributed to several factors, including increased awareness and use of condoms, availability of anti-retroviral treatment and scale-up of prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Approximately 1.3 million Kenyans are currently living with HIV, including about 156,000 children. Despite rapidly expanded access to treatment in recent years, an estimated 140,000 adults still die annually due to AIDS-related illnesses. Out of an estimated 2.4 million orphans and vulnerable children in need of care and support, about 1.2 million are believed to be due to rising AIDS mortality. Latest estimates of incidence put the number of new HIV infections in the country between 236 and 397 per day.
While malaria continues to be the biggest killer of children in Kenya, there was a 44 per cent in under-five deaths from malaria in the malaria endemic areas. This was achieved through effective treatment following a change in the drug policy from SP to combination therapy, the distribution of over 12 million insecticide-treated bed nets, and the use of preventive malaria treatment during pregnancy. Between 2002 and 2006 the percentage of children under five sleeping under a treated net increased from just four to 52, while access to prompt and effective treatment rose from four per cent to 16 per cent.
Malnutrition continues to threaten a significant proportion of Kenyan children and women. The most recent countrywide data from 2005/06 shows that 33 per cent of children are stunted, six per cent are wasted and 20 per cent are underweight. National immunization coverage is at 76 per cent, far below the recommended 85 per cent. Wide disparities in immunization rates exist. In the drought-prone North Eastern Province, for example, where access to health facilities is poor, measles vaccination coverage is only 37 per cent.
Access to safe water and sanitation facilities is also limited. More than 15 million people – including more than half the rural population – are without access to safe water or sanitation facilities.
The 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health survey showed deterioration in almost all health indicators. Under five mortality rates (U5MR) had risen from from110 to 115 per 1,000 live births over the previous four to five years. The same survey exposed major disparities across the country — with U5MR ranging from 54 per 1,000 live births in Central Province to 163 per 1,000 in North Eastern Province and 206 per 1,000 in Nyanza Province. Separate surveys also show high under five mortality rates in the informal settlements of Nairobi, rising to 245 per 1,000 live births in Embakasi and 186 in Kibera informal settlements.
Despite the impressive economic growth in the last two years, Kenya is among the world’s 30 poorest countries, ranking 152 out of 177 countries on the 2006 Human Development Index. Inequalities are wide with the top 10 per cent of Kenyans earning 44 per cent of the national income, whilst the bottom 10 per cent earns less than one per cent. Kenya’s poorest regions, including North Eastern Province, have twice the relative poverty headcount of its least poor regions. Years of drought in this region have had a serious impact on the well-being of children, increasing malnutrition rates, morbidity and mortality.