Capital FM (Nairobi)

Kenya: Activists Call for Better Awareness of HIV/Aids Risks

As the world marked World AIDs day on Saturday, statistics revealed that 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV last year while approximately 1.7 million people died from AIDS.

According to the World Health Organisation, the number of new infections has reduced by 700,000 compared to 2002 while the number of deaths has reduced by 600,000 compared to 2005.

The founder of the Kenya Voluntary Women Rehabilitation Centre (K-VOWRC), an organization which helps those infected live positive lives Professor Elizabeth Ngugi stated the need to empower those at greater risk to make informed choices to not get HIV infection and if infected to live positively.

"The whole world is talking about the need to respond to this pandemic. Work with sex workers, work with men who have sex with men, work with men who sell sex, work with every community that is at risk. We cannot cry over spilt milk as a community or as the world," she said.

She pointed out that this can only happen through initiatives that encourage human relations, communication, counselling and persuasive skills and enhancing income generating activities.

She stressed the need for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world.

"We can only look forward now and make sure that every human being in this world who needs education and training to use preventive methods of protecting himself or herself from AIDS is reached," she said.

Among the people who have relinquished their risky lifestyles to take up other viable activities include Rosemary Wanjiku who got into commercial sex work at the age 17 years.

For the last three years, she was on the streets, literally exchanging sex for money.

Rosemary is now rehabilitated and is working as a trainee hairdresser.

"I am really grateful because where I have reached, I did not know if I could turn back. I did not believe that I could leave prostitution but now I have turned over a new leaf and it is benefiting me," she said.

A few kilometres from the salon where she is working, another young woman Evelyne Wanjiru aged 16 is making her own history.

Evelyne entered the trade at the tender age of 9.

"Before I joined one organization, I was a naughty girl and used to smoke bhang and drink a lot but know I have seen the light and know that at least I have a future," she revealed.

Other women were not as fortunate since they were infected and have to live lives where they are stigmatized and discriminated against.

"My own family disowned me and my own husband threw me out and this affected me greatly," one of them said.

Dr George Githuka, who is in charge of the Most at Risk Populations at the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, while noting that HIV and AIDS remains a top concern for the Kenya government, observes that HIV/AIDS remains a major burden for the poor and the vulnerable.

He says that poor women and children in particular bear a disproportionate share of the heavy burden caused by the pandemic.

"For us our mandate ends at providing health services but with support from other partners we are able to do more which helps a lot," he stated.

The World AIDS Campaign this year's focus on "Zero AIDS related deaths" signifies a push towards greater access to treatment for all, a call for governments to act now.

It is a call to honour promises like the Abuja declaration and for African governments to at least hit targets for domestic spending on health and HIV.

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