AIDS in Kenya: A social disease

I am a Kenyan journalist with 5 years of experience in journalism and mass communication. i have experience in radio broadcast, writing features and news, reporting news, video camera work and photography.

Nairobi (Kenya): “In the year 2002 I was pregnant and when I visited the antenatal clinic for check up, as my health was deteriorating. After testing I was diagnosed with HIV. I reflected back to the first time I was tested positive with HIV but ignored, my child died.

“What about this pregnancy?” Rose Awuor explains, I forced myself to accept to the situation, and you know I come from a denomination that doesn’t believe in taking drugs when you’re sick. My church is Rejo Maria where we only prayed for, take water and you will be healed, no medicine.” She adds.

The case of Rose Awour (35) and HIV positive is not an exceptional to the many HIV positive cases in Kenya that face a lot of stigma and discrimination from the religions they are attached to.

Religion and condom

First HIV case was reported in Kenya more than twenty years ago. Faith based organizations had always reads from a different script as compared to the government’s approach to tackle HIV in the country.

The universal approach of ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful and use Condom) was far greatly shunned by religious leaders due to the use of condom aspect. They claimed that, this opens corridors to adulterous community which is a sin according to the laws of God.

Faith based organizations hardly or never talk about the use of condom, but strictly teaches about the phase of completely abstaining from sex to whoever isn’t married until the day he /she will tie the knot of marriage.

Awuor, mother of two HIV negative children lives in Korogocho slum in Nairobi.  Awuor husband, due to her firmness to take medication, refused to meet any of her basic family needs and ran away from the family leaving her to die in bed.

The growing pressure inside him from their religion and relatives made him restless and drunkard. Although he was HIV positive too, he couldn’t adhere to medication but would be administered with prayers and water by his religious leaders.

HIV, Church and Christ

“Religious leaders have been running away from issues of addressing HIV, because of ABC method of approach which is associated with lots of stigma and discrimination.  Tagging HIV to immorality. Tagging HIV infection to one mode of transmission and that is sexual transmission.” says Pastor Nyabuto Marube of Church of Christ Kayole in Nairobi.

When we say that the church is the body of Christ, we are teaching people to understand that the body of Christ is HIV positive. How can the body of Christ be HIV positive when Christ is the holy one of God? But now when we talk of SAVE and we talk of applying other methods of infection because people know there are other mode of infection, people are willing to listen and religious leaders are joining in.” adds pastor Marube.

As per statistics by Ministry of Health, Kenya there are 1.4 million people infected with HIV positive in the country, most of these are either in courtships or marriage. The report adds that high HIV infection in Kenya is occurring in heterosexual marriage. All these people are attached to a certain religious group which is silent when talking about HIV.

Why change ABC approach to SAVE method?

“Religion has the most people living with HIV, thus it’s time for these faith based organization leaders to accept that HIV is among them and look for a better way to address the subject.“ says major Rose Mbula of the Salvation Army. And that’s why we are advocating for the use of SAVE approach method to combat HIV in the country because it will include every one without intimidating the religious leaders.”

Prof. Mohammed Sheikh Karama says currently the HIV virus is changing into a chronic illness that people can live with. The approach needs to be changed in order tackle all aspects that have been ignored by the ABC method.

So all the dimensions required for the proper treatment and combat HIV has been left by the ABC method. Issues on how proper medication for HIV would be found and empowerment of the community with the proper equipment to recoil from risk behaviors and even take care of those with HIV is just but part of what needs to be thought of.

“ABC is one of the components in SAVE method which also addresses the access of Antiretroviral Therapy and proper treatment; adhere to treatment, good nutrition, because currently you realize that treatment is part of prevention. It’s not just a cure for the illness but also part of prevention.” Say’s prof. Sheikh Karama

Meaning of SAVE Method

SAVE method deals with all concerns, depending on the current mode of transmission. It addresses the issues of avoiding sharp objects like injections and needles. It also includes the ABC approach and tackles blood donation and transfusion.

Availability of proper medication, access, adherence and good nutrition and those living with HIV to be attached to community health organization which helps them to overcome the odds attached to HIV.

Voluntary confidential counseling and testing of HIV; thorough counseling to prepare the clients for and also based on the results. Also advice to adherence to ARTS treatment.

Empowerment, poverty and illiteracy are the worst driving force towards HIV. Persons living with HIV if given alternative income generating activities might be able to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. This is because of the dependency syndrome. It also includes positive living and education empowerment to those living with HIV.

Way forward

“Stigma has been at the higher rate to and from the religious leaders. They have been pointing fingers to those with HIV. But since they have started using the SAVE method, there is laughter in their faces, they have accepted each other and need for behaviour change.” Says Major Rose Mbula

If this method is administered to the community, the myths attached to HIV would be easily driven away and a free community would be easily created, because the SAVE approach method takes care of Opportunistic Infections (IOs) too.

Governments need to enroll in to use this method as it gears towards zero new infections in the community, meaning a geared approach towards the achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGS).

This approach will help bring together all bodies that would help do away easily with HIV because it tries to deal with sexual transmission and non- sexual transmission of HIV.

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