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Kenya: Country Needs New Aids Plan: marriage, sexual networking
 
 
  The Nation (Nairobi)
OPINION
6 October 2007
Daniel Mwaura
Nairobi
 
More than 80 per cent of HIV infections are through sexual contact, meaning that if people had responsible sex - an ideal scenario being abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage - Aids would not be such a big issue in Kenya.
 
But it is impossible for people to abide by the rules. Kenyans recently celebrated the achievement of reduced HIV prevalence from 13 per cent to 5.1 per cent through the efforts of the Government, the private sector, NGOs and others.
 
Studies show that people aged below 24, especially females, are most at risk. Most people in this age group are unmarried or newly married.
 
Programmes targeting the group emphasise abstinence and condom use, while the married are considered safe only if they remain faithful to their spouses.
 
Research on HIV and Aids show astounding facts. For instance, the issue of discordant couples leaves participants of awareness meetings confused, if not scared. Sexual partners are discordant if one is HIV-positive and the other negative. There are many such cases still under research to establish the real reasons for discordance.
 
The take-home message is that men should not go for HIV tests through their wives, and vive versa. Only you will tell your status by going for the test.
 
It is advisable for one to know one's status so that one may make quick decisions, such as not infecting one's partner in a continued sexual relationship.
 
From discordance, Kenyans seem to be entering a new phase in which the high risk is shifting from the unmarried to the married. A study done in Uganda reveal that 65 per cent of new HIV infections are among the married, while divorcees account for 26 per cent and the never married only 9 per cent. The situation is most likely replicated in the whole of eastern, central and southern Africa.
 
This finding may be amazing - that marriage is no insurance against the dreaded virus. So what has become of the institution of marriage? Is it unfaithfulness on the part of either or both of the couple? The situation is worsened by the myth that one is safe if one sleeps with a married person. The tragedy is that the sweetie is attracted to many others.
 
A study done in Likoma, Malawi, reveals that people who do not stick to one partner are in a big sexual network, making them vulnerable to HIV infection. This calls for extra care in marriage and sex. The fact that many couples nowadays live apart
due to the nature of their work and only meet once in a while increases the risk.
 
It would therefore help a great deal if there were labour policies that enable couples to live together. This is also healthy for the growing children. For this would save them the situation in which they have an "uncle" relating with the mother and who seems to be there more than the father.
 
They grow into adults with the habit. The value system in marriage is continually degraded. This is why it is important for people implementing HIV and Aids programmes to consider targeting married couples.
 
Couple counselling and testing should be integrated into the health programmes. Many companies are involved in programmes targeting employees only. A few have gone further to include families and dependants, if on a one-off basis that entails awareness sessions.
 
There is need for a more systematic programme to reach employee partners, whether married or not, to not only educate them on HIV/Aids, but also engage family counsellors to help to rejuvenate the bond and bring back the flavour of such a relationship.
 
Unfaithfulness is the result of dwindling love.
There should therefore be more family programmes on radio and television to strengthen the relationship between spouses.
 
 
 
 
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