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