December 7, 2006
According to National AIDS Control Council statistics, 1.3 million of Kenya's 35 million people have HIV/AIDS. Sixty-five percent of the 1.3 million are women ages 19 to 45. Since 1984, according to health ministry estimates, at least 1.5 million Kenyans have died from HIV/AIDS.
Awareness campaigns have reduced Kenya's HIV/AIDS prevalence rate to 6 percent in 2006, down from 10 percent in the late 1990s. Condom use has risen, and the average number of sexual partners has declined, according to a UN report. But HIV-positive Kenyans are often stigmatized by strangers and family who remain ignorant about how the disease is transmitted and its symptoms.
"When people know you're infected with the disease, they fear many aspects of the communal living typical in the slums -- sharing water or toilets, shopping at the same stores," said Dennis Oduor Omondi, an HIV/AIDS counselor with African Medical and Research Foundation. "They don't understand they can't get it through greeting someone, touching someone, even breathing the same air," Omondi said. "Stigma prevents people from getting educated about the disease and helps spread it further."
Charles Kaduwa, a program officer for Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya, said the biggest hurdles Kenya faces are better integrating HIV-positive people into the community and reducing stigma. "Stigma prevents people from going for tests, from seeking treatment, from disclosing their HIV status to sexual partners or spouses," Kaduwa said. "It helps the epidemic to spread and stigma helps people infected with HIV die."