on February 15 2014 10:52 AM
A Kenyan nongovernmental organization (NGO), the AIDS Healthcare Foundation–Kenya (AHF-K), plans to use the Valentine’s Day holiday to test at least 5,000 people for the HIV virus and to distribute 200,000 condoms over the weekend in order to promote safe sex. By the end of the year, the group hopes to distribute 4 million free condoms and test at least a quarter-million people for the virus.
The Standard newspaper of Kenya reported that AHF-K’s prevention and advocacy manager Mary Nyaguthii said a study revealed that adultery among married couples in the country has pushed up the rates of the disease among that segment of the population. About 9.1 percent of married couples have HIV/AIDS, well above the national rate of 5.6 percent (which itself is down from 7.2 percent five years ago.)
On Thursday, the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) and the National AIDS and STI Control Program (NASCOP) marked the first ever International Condom Day in Nairobi by launching a campaign to issue 1 million condoms in the city. Martin Sirengo, the deputy director of NASCOP, said that condom use has directly reduced HIV transmission across the East African nation. “There is an increased use in condoms which has greatly contributed to the reduction of those infected with the HIV virus. Five years ago only one out of 10 people used condoms and today approximately seven people use condoms,” he said, reported AllAfrica.com. But he cautioned that too many Kenyans still resist the use of condoms, while some communities even consider such a practice taboo.
Nairobi, the teeming capital city, is the HIV/AIDS center of the country. Nairobi County government health director Samuel Ochola said some 8.6 percent of the city’s residents have the virus, translating into about 270,000 people. Nairobi also has the highest rate of new adult HIV infections, at about 13,510 per year, as well as highest incidence of the virus among children, with 1,715 new infections reported annually. “These figures are unacceptably high given the time we are living in when the scientific and technological advances point to a possibility of eliminating new infections particularly for children being born by HIV- positive mothers,” said Ochola. He also suggested that the country needs to aggressively promote the use of condoms. “We need to de-stigmatize condoms by engaging in open discussions and by creating an environment in which those who need them can freely access them,” he noted.
Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has added her name to the program to increase condom use. “Mothers and children are suffering and dying in this country [from] avoidable causes — pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and HIV transmitted from their mothers. It pains me, especially as a mother. But together we can make a difference,” she said in a statement. “Few of us know enough about HIV transmission from mothers to children, or about improving maternal, newborn and child health. If we don’t raise awareness, nothing will change.”
BBC reported on another Kenyan woman who has taken a personal approach to reduce HIV transmission in her country – she is delivering condoms directly to people who are too embarrassed to purchase them. In a country where public discussion of sex is taboo, many people are reluctant to make open purchases of condoms out of fear that others will think they are either sexually promiscuous or homosexual. Faith Ndiwa, who has formed a service to deliver condoms to people by motorbike (and even flower-decorated limousines on Valentine’s Day) said she was inspired to do something after several of her friends had died of the disease. “Most of them died of AIDS because they shied off buying condoms,” she said. BBC noted that a packet of three condoms costs about $3.50, including delivery charges. Ndiwa has established the service in Nairobi, as well as in the cities of Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret. “It is time we beat this culture of being afraid, as it will help us save millions if we can practise safe sex,” she added.
Emmanuel Igunza, a BBC correspondent in Kenya, said that hospitals, health clinics and public toilets are required to hand out condoms for free — but they frequently run out.
Kenya’s sex workers are also reluctant to use condoms – they favor anti-retroviral drugs instead. ‘Sheila,’ a prostitute who works in the Korogocho slum of Nairobi, explained to BBC why she refrains from wearing condoms during sex with customers. “We don’t have money, and when you meet a client who offers to give you more money than you usually get, you have sex without protection even when you don’t know his HIV status,” she said. Rather, she and many of her fellow sex workers prefer to go a clinic to obtain an emergency anti-retroviral drug known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP, BBC noted, is used in cases of suspected rape or in incidents where medics have been pricked by a possibly infected needle. But experts believe condoms would better reduce the chances of HIV transmission.
Peter Godfrey-Faussett, senior science adviser with UNAIDS, warned that: “We know that despite fairly high rates of condom use in many sex-work communities, we still have very high rates of HIV so we need additional tools as well as what’s already happening.” Another sex worker named Pamela claimed she has used PEP many times to ward off contracting the virus. “I had unprotected sex when I was very drunk one night and the following morning I didn’t go to the same clinic where I got the first PEP tablets… I went to a different clinic where they don’t have my records, and lied that I was forced into unprotected sex,” she told BBC. “[But taking them makes] you feel bad, like vomiting, dizziness, and generally you just feel sick. So I stopped taking them.”
Godfrey-Faussett concluded that condoms remain the “single most effective way of preventing HIV, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.”