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Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma and Discrimination
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International News

A Wind of Hope in an AIDS-Racked Kenyan Desert Town

June 22, 2005

In the Kenyan desert town of Isiolo, Khadija Rama founded the Pepo la Tumaini Jangwani program, Swahili for "Wind of Hope in the Desert." Her group distributes antiretroviral drugs, counsels HIV patients, runs a school for AIDS orphans, and offers a haven for HIV-positive women shunned by their communities. But the nongovernmental organization has run into trouble in the predominantly Muslim area.

"Men here regard women as third-class citizens. So especially when we deal with issues of sex and sexuality, they become very angry," said Rama. "Women here are supposed to be submissive, and when we're assertive then the men are offended."

Rama was attacked one night after she spoke at a meeting to urge people to use condoms. She disapproves of the cultural practice of men sharing their wives with others, saying it is "an excuse for promiscuity" and an ideal avenue for the spread of HIV/AIDS. Her stance conflicts with local custom.

Despite the controversy, Rama and her followers have inspired local imam Rashid Haroun, a community leader, to speak about the dangers of risky sex, abuse of women, and stigmatization of people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

"I have seen in Isiolo now that more people are accepting that HIV/AIDS is a real threat to Muslims -- and that this disease is not a western, Christian illness but an illness of the entire humanity," Haroun said.

"Our graveyards are full of people who have died of HIV -- all Muslims. And the bars are full of young prostitutes, all Muslims. Yet the community says 'Muslims do not get AIDS; Muslims are not sex workers,'" said Christine Osedo, who works with Rama. HIV prevalence in Kenya is 6.7 percent, according to UNAIDS.

Back to other news for June 22, 2005

Adapted from:
Inter-Press Service
06.17.05; Darren Taylor

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More News on HIV/AIDS in Kenya