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HEALTH-KENYA: President Moi Joins The Campaign Against HIV/AIDS


NAIROBI, Dec 3 (IPS) - Only a year ago, after the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) claimed more than 500,000 lives in Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi could not bring himself to call a condom by its name while addressing public or official functions.

Moi, a devout Christian, condemned condom users as people who have "failed to live up to expectations of behaviour society expected from those with upright morals".

Today with more shocking statistics on the impact of the epidemic in Kenya, Moi has softened his stand on the condom debate and has made the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, his favourite topic in his daily televised speeches.

While declaring HIV/AIDS a national disaster last week, Moi, in his mid-70s, gave what he describes as "fatherly advise" to the East African country's 30-million people, that condoms are "absolutely necessary".

"The threat of AIDS has reached alarming proportions, and must not be treated casually. In today's world, condoms are a must," Moi told university students this week while officiating a graduation ceremony.

Taking cue from their leader, politicians have also began to talk openly about HIV/AIDS, appealing for behaviour change. "We can no longer skirt around this issue," notes Moody Awori, an assistant minister in Moi's cabinet.

Moi's latest effort to step up awareness to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, nearly two decades after the first diagnosis on the virus was made in Kenya, however, comes almost too late, for a country, which is losing at least 500 people a day to the disease, which attacks the immune system.

Kenya, which spends an annual 40 billion shillings in terms of lost human resources and medical cost of HIV/AIDS, has more than two million of Africa's 21 million AIDS sufferers.

One US Dollar is equal to 74 shillings.

The epidemic has taken a silent but heavy toll on the East African country's professionals including school teachers, doctors, lawyers and even journalists, with more than 70 percent of hospital beds occupied by AIDS patients.

In Kisumu, the largest town in western Kenya, most affected by the scourge, schools are running short of teachers with five dying each month. "They are dying faster than we can replace them," says health minister Sam Ongeri.

In Migori, a district in western Kenya, 15 adults die daily in hospitals, according to latest official data.

Kenya's main University of Nairobi, according to its vice- chancellor Francis Gechaga, buries an average 14 students and staff each week.

Perhaps the most shocking news comes from a high school in Nairobi where more than two-thirds of girls who recently volunteered to donate blood were found to be HIV positive.

Army barracks have not been spared from the epidemic, which according to army chief, Gen. Daudi Tonje, kills at least three soldiers each week.

The picture is more bleaker in villages and small towns where the number of child headed households are increasing as a result of parent loss. In some villages, the entire adult population aged between 18 and 60 have been wiped out.

The latest report on the national situation of AIDS predicts an increase of AIDS sufferers from the current 10 percent to 15 percent by 2005, if no practical measures are put in place to curb the spread of the virus.

The publication, "AIDS In Kenya: Background, Projections, Impact, Interventions Policy" says the number of children orphaned by Aids in Kenya may increase to 860,000 from the current 600,000 by 2000.

A UN Children's Fund (Unicef) report notes that, although there are no quick-fixes to the challenges brought about by HIV/AIDS, the emerging need of quick responses to the orphan crisis is already visible in many African countries like Kenya.

The report, released this week, reveals that 13 million children in Africa will have lost one or both their parents to AIDS by 2000, and 10.4 million of them will still be under five if the current trend persists.

The HIV crisis has brought home the reality to the Kenyan government, which has started a massive campaigns to halt further spread of the disease. Condom use is being advocated more openly while new condom ads have become bolder on radio and television.

In newspapers, HIV/AIDS has moved from the inner pages where they were hidden to the more prominent pages usually reserved for politics.

In the capital Nairobi, more companies have resorted to regularly show videos and lecturers on AIDS prevention to their workers as a measure to curb the spread of the virus.

In places like Kisumu, where issues of sexuality are considered a taboo subject, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) use puppets and drama in public places to convey the message.

The campaign to promote condoms has been criticised by Catholic church which argues that the move will only promote promiscuity, instead of preaching abstinence from sex for unmarried people and fidelity for couples as the best measures to fight the disease.

"If condoms are allowed to be distributed freely, in five years time, they will come back to us (for another free condoms)," says the outspoken head of the Catholic church in Kenya, Ndingi Mwana a'Nzweki.(END/IPS/ja/mn/99)


Copyright © 1999 -Inter Press Service, Publisher. All rights reserved to Inter Press Service. Reproduced with permission.Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Inter Press Service, IPS-ONLINE, World Desk via Panisperna 207 00184 Rome, Italy. Email IPS visit Inter Press Service.

Information in this article was accurate in December 3, 1999. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.