Albion Monitor /News

Kenya: Heading Into AIDS Storm

by Moyiga Nduru

to AIDS Time Bomb series
(IPS) NAIROBI -- Widespread concern that Kenya is heading into an AIDS storm has prompted the government to formulate a long- term strategy to deal with the scourge that already has killed nearly a quarter-of-a-million young Kenyans.

Figures released in mid-September by the Ministry of Health predict AIDS will claim about a million Kenyans by the year 2000.

Up to 1.3 million have HIV, Assistant Health Minister Basil Criticos said recently in parliament when he tabled a bill aimed at tackling the disease -- the government's first official acknowledgement of the magnitude of the scourge. "Some do not even know that they carry the virus," he said.

The bill was adopted by parliament on Sep. 24. It calls for a concerted campaign to change society's attitudes towards casual sex and proposes that anyone who intentionally infects another with the killer virus be found guilty of manslaughter.

But some legislators argued that the bill did not go far enough to address the problems that encourage the spread of the killer disease, including polygamy, a common practice in Kenya. Polygamy, they said, is a leading agent in the transmission of HIV but was not even mentioned in the bill.

One parliamentarian even demanded that the paper include the castration of male adults who defile young girls as part of a policy to stop the spread of the disease.

"In some families, the entire structure has fallen apart, leaving orphans homeless on the streets"
Beyond the moral considerations such proposals arouse, they reflect a growing awareness of the threat the virus poses. The National AIDS/STD Control Program (NASCP) has warned that unless Kenya comes up with a comprehensive set of interventions, 10 percent of its adults could be HIV-positive by the year 2000.

It estimates that about 300,000 Kenyan children under the age of 15 have already lost their mothers to AIDS. This number is projected to reach nearly 600,000 by the year 2000 and one million by the year 2005.

"Some Kenyan households are being led by children as young as 10 to 12 years old. In other families, the entire structure has fallen apart, leaving orphans homeless on the streets, themselves vulnerable to HIV infection," said a recent joint report by NASCP and the U.S.-based Family Health International.

The report, entitled 'AIDS in Kenya: Socioeconomic Impact and Policy Implications,' said the extended family in Kenya has traditionally fostered orphaned children, but the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and the growing number of AIDS orphans have already overwhelmed traditional care structures in parts of the country.

It warned that unless Kenya's government moves fast, the virus will deal a severe blow to its economy. According to the report, one in seven workers in Nairobi is infected with HIV and projections are that the rate will climb to one in four by the year 2000.

Recently the auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop of Nairobi led a condom-burning rally
The first case of AIDS was identified in Kenya in 1984, but debates over such issues as the origins of the disease, the efficacy of condoms, public values and personal morals precluded a unified, national response that could have stemmed the epidemic early on.

Recently the auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop of Nairobi, Alfred Rotich, led a condom-burning rally here, urging Kenyans to refrain from sex before marriage and to stick to one partner.

President Daniel Arap Moi has said that the disease can only be defeated by being morally upright. To show its seriousness, his government scrapped sex education from Kenya's school syllabus. Announcing the decision here on Sep 25, Moi called upon religious institutions to guide the youth on all matters related to morality and spirituality.

Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Cote D'Ivoire have the worst HIV infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are over 20 million HIV infections in the world -- 18.5 million adults and 1.5 million children. In sub-Saharan Africa, 13 million people carry the virus, according to the WHO.

Previous Story Next Story

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor November 5, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page