The government has announced a drop in the HIV prevalence rate in Kenya from a high 14% to a relatively low 5%. These figures were announced by Prof. Were, the chairperson of the National Aids Control Council. Prof. Were also added that the number of people on ARVs had increased from a paltry 2000 five years ago to 150,000 in 2007.
This is good news. However, a lot more needs to be done. West African countries like Senegal have showed that with government commitment and cultural changes the scourge of AIDS can be kept at bay.
Among things that ought to change are traditional practices that belong in the pre-AIDS era. I am talking about wife inheritance in my home province of Nyanza and sharing of material during communal circumcisions across the country. Other areas to be looked at are religious practices and teachings that may encourage the spread of the disease. Being a Catholic, I am embarrassed by my church’s insistence that people should not use condoms even as they die like flies from this terrible malady. The government should talk straight with the church on this issue and require them not to preach from the pulpits anything that might jeopardize the success of the national anti-AIDS campaign.
Kenyans also need to change certain social practices. A friend of mine told me that when she visited Africa – South Africa and Swaziland – she was struck by the utter lack of faithfulness among couples. This might explain the high AIDS prevalence rates in Southern Africa and is also true in East Africa. Kenyans need to be more responsible with their sexuality by planning well with regards to matters sexual. The government and interested groups ought to be more aggressive in their family planning and sexual education initiatives in order to ensure that the gains that have been made in the last six years are improved upon.
I believe that with a concerted effort from the government, churches and cultural icons – like the Ker in Luo Nyanza for instance – Kenya can achieve a prevalence rate of less than 1% in the not so distant future. The majority Muslim countries of West Africa have managed to have low infection rates with little resources and so can we in the East, and possibly lend our ideas to the Southerners who are the worst affected by this scourge.