Gender Aspects in HIV/AIDS Infection and Prevention in Kenya
Njeru, Enos H N
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According to National Aids Control Council, the national prevalence rate stood at 14 per cent in the year 2000, being higher or lower in some areas than others. This fell from 13.1 per cent in 2001 to 10.2 per cent in 2003 (Daily Nation, March 31, 2004:11). Recent estimates by the 2003 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) indicate that 6.7 per cent of Kenyan adults are infected with HIV. Heterosexual contacts account for 90 per cent of HIV infections while mother to child transmission (MTCT) and contacts with infected blood account for the other 10 per cent. The HIV infection rate varies significantly with age and between the sexes. HIV prevalence in women aged 15-49 is nearly 9 per cent, while that among men aged 15-54 is under 5 per cent. This female to male ratio of 1.9 to 1 implies that young women are particularly more vulnerable to HIV infection than young men. The peak prevalence among women is at age 25-29 years (13 per cent), while among men the prevalence rises gradually with age, to peak at age 40-44 (9 per cent). Only in the 45-49 year age group does HIV prevalence become higher among men (5 per cent) than for women (4 per cent). Approval of Sessional Paper No.4 of 1997 on AIDS in Kenya signals clear intent of the government to support effective programmes to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in Kenya, as the Third National AIDS Strategic Plan 2000-2005 was launched in December 2000. Guidelines have been developed to support implementation in all critical areas including anti-retroviral therapy, voluntary counselling and testing, blood safety, condom promotion and HIV/AIDS education, among others. The present government under the already devised a new anti-HIV/AIDS strategy by putting in place appropriate policies and programs. For example, at the beginning of 2003, the government established a Cabinet Sub-Committee on HIV/AIDS chaired by the president, to spearhead the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. However, a fuller understanding of the gender dynamics in HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention will go a long way in guiding the formulation of pertinent policy options in HIV/AIDS prevention strategies. Extra challenges for HIV prevention arise from societal expectations that allow men to take risks; have frequent sexual intercourse (often with more than one partner) and exercise authority over women. These expectations, among others, encourage men to force sex on unwilling female partners and to reject condom use, among other risky behaviours regarding HIV/AIDS infection and prevention. Changing the commonly held attitudes and behaviours should be part and parcel of the efforts to curb the AIDS pandemic. On the other hand, due to their lack of social and economic power, many women and girls are unable to negotiate relationships based on abstinence, faithfulness and use of condoms.
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