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Medical News

Ignorance, Misconceptions Fuel Kenya AIDS Crisis

January 23, 2003

Nearly one in every five young women in Kenya is now HIV- infected, according to a new study led by Dr. Mark Hawken of the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi. Hawken and colleagues point to a basic lack of knowledge as the main culprit behind the explosive spread of HIV in the East African nation. For example, when asked, just 7 percent of Kenyans knew that existing medications can help prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. "This study emphasizes the vulnerability of young [Kenyan] adults, particularly young women, to HIV infection," the authors wrote. Their report, "Opportunity for Prevention of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Kenyan Youth: Results of a Population-Based Survey," was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (2002;31:529-535).

In their study, Hawken and colleagues conducted interviews and HIV tests among 1,500 Kenyans ages 15 to 49 living in the coastal city of Mombasa. They found that 8 percent of men and nearly 14 percent of women were HIV-infected. The gender gap was most pronounced among young people in their late 20s, with close to 21 percent of women ages 25 to 29 testing HIV-positive.

Many young Kenyans may be contracting HIV because they have little or no idea how to prevent infection, the authors report. Four percent of women were unable to name even one method -- condom use included -- of reducing risks for sexual transmission of HIV, and 37 percent erroneously believe that not having sex during pregnancy can reduce mother-to-fetus transmission of the virus. This lack of knowledge may be discouraging use of condoms and/or HIV therapy among young Kenyans. According to the researchers, just 22 percent of women and 45 percent of men said they had ever used condoms during sexual intercourse.

Still, there were hopeful findings. For example, while HIV rates were high in the 25-to-29-year-old group, they were markedly lower among Kenyan teenagers, with the infection gender gap shrinking considerably among teens, as well. These findings suggest that AIDS education may be having a "significant impact" on school-aged Kenyans, reducing promiscuity and raising levels of condom use, said the researchers.

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Adapted from:
Reuters Health

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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
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10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
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