HIV / AIDS Education Program
The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Kenya
In 2005, 2.4 million people died from HIV/AIDS related illness in sub-Saharan Africa and 3.2 million people became infected with HIV (UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update, December 2005). In the East African nation of Kenya , 700 people die each day from HIV/AIDS. In rural areas of Kenya the infection rate for ages 15-49 is between 25-30%. The majority of these people are the workforce of the community. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10% of pregnant women are living with HIV in rural Kenya . Hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children have been orphaned due to AIDS. Not only is this a health crisis, it is a crisis that is affecting all other sectors of society, robbing countries of the resources on which human development and survival depend.
Even though there is a good level of knowledge about HIV in the urban areas of the country, on average, young adults do not have enough information to protect themselves properly. 34% of young women and 47% of young men (aged 15-24) correctly identified effective methods of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, according to UNAIDS/WHO. The level of knowledge in rural areas is especially poor. Working in the rural sectors of Western Province since 1998, members of Volunteer Kenya have surveyed and witnessed a tragic situation: the ravaging effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in these remote locations.
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Western Province is among the highest in Kenya , with the main mode of transmission being heterosexual contact. Despite the threat caused by AIDS, there are still individuals that practice risky sexual behavior and other factors that can increase infection rates. Communities still maintain cultural practices that can facilitate spread of HIV, such as wife/widow inheritance, the use of traditional healers, circumcision ceremonies, and other rituals. Commercial sex is rampant along the major road that passes through Bungoma district into Uganda . Many men who work outside the district in major cities may contract the virus and then transmit infection to their wives and children upon their return. Lack of facilities and programs makes it difficult for rural Kenyans to get tested for HIV and those that do have the disease receive no counseling or treatment.
Some of the main causes of the high rate of infection in the Western Province involve the silence and stigma that surround HIV/AIDS. Many people refuse to be tested out of fear for how they will be treated if they test positive. Many who are HIV positive are unaware of their status, and therefore are unknowingly spreading the virus and leading lifestyles which can contribute to early progression to AIDS. Amongst those living in the rural areas, HIV/AIDS and its symptoms are sometimes attributed to witchcraft and curses, rather than to the disease itself. The inaccessibility of factual information is also a contributing factor to the high infection rate. It is the unfortunate reality that there are still misconceptions about the transmission and prevention of HIV. There is often minimal access to information about HIV/AIDS in these rural areas. These factors, as well as many social and gender-related issues, have allowed the HIV/AIDS epidemic to flourish in the Western Province . Unless action is taken, this disease will continue to ravage the district, leading to an over-burdened health care system, disintegrated family structure, and an increased number of orphans and abandoned children. In addition, it will continue to amplify the isolation and vulnerability of women and will result in a weak, sick labor force and ultimately a severe drainage of community resources. The economic growth of the Western Province will be paralyzed.
Battling HIV/AIDS Through Education
Since the summer of 1998, the members of Volunteer Kenya, working alongside their partner organizations and volunteers from the US , Canada , Switzerland , Australia , the UK , Japan , and Spain have reached over 200,000 Kenyans with their HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. At schools, community centers, bars, nightclubs, churches, and women's groups, the Volunteer Kenya team presents two to three hour HIV/AIDS programs. Discussions at these programs center on transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STIs. We supply facts about HIV/AIDS that assist in dispelling the multitude of rumors and myths concerning the disease that are rampant in Western Kenya and elsewhere. HIV/AIDS awareness films such as Silent Epidemic and Facing the Challenge (from Ace Communications) and Understanding the Disease (from Glaxo Welcome) are effectively used as teaching tools.
Drama is incorporated into the programs in the form of a skit about how the virus attacks the white blood cells. Over 15,000 condoms have been distributed throughout the Bungoma district. Where permitted, demonstrations of proper condom use are performed. Each presentation concludes with an intensive question and answer session. The open forum style allows those in attendance to feel free to ask even the most sensitive of questions. Our team is always welcomed with enthusiasm and bid farewell with a plea to return. The students and community members we speak with are eager for information about the disease that is killing their loved ones. In many cases, we are the first to bring education about HIV/AIDS to the churches, communities and schools that we visit.
In April of 2003, a program for Peer Education called EMPOWER was developed and implemented by the Volunteer Kenya team. The goal of EMPOWER is to train high school students and/or community groups such that they can be a resource for others within their schools and/or communities. It is the hope that the information supplied within the EMPOWER manual will be a reference that can be used in answering questions posed by their peers and that, following training, they will be comfortable giving a presentation about HIV/AIDS to a group. In a high school environment, students with questions and concerns relating to sex and STIs are not likely to ask teachers and guidance counselors for information.
Having a peer to supply facts and guidance will increase the comfort level and facilitate the acquisition of knowledge by those who most need it. Community-based training sessions also provide trained, knowledgeable individuals within rural areas. The participants attend six training sessions (2-2.5 hours each) covering a range of topics including information about HIV/AIDS and the Immune System, Mother to Child Transmission, Sexual Decision making (including a demonstration of proper condom use), Guidelines for Living Positively with HIV/AIDS, Details of Cultural Practices and Social Structures which affect the spread, and tips for Counseling of HIV-infected and affected individuals. Videos, group discussions, games, worksheets, and role-plays have all been incorporated into the EMPOWER curriculum to facilitate active learning. Participants are given the opportunity to practice giving a presentation about HIV/AIDS. The final session involves the formulation of an Action Plan. The participants decide what to do with the knowledge they have gained from the program and how it can best benefit their communities and/or schools. With some input from Volunteer Kenya, they will come up with ideas as to distribution of this knowledge and are offered our advice and/or help for any programs they wish to begin. Participants are continuously encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions which can enhance the EMPOWER program. As of January 2006, over 1,000 students and adults have undergone EMPOWER training.
We have realized, through our community involvement that a high level of ignorance still exists about the origin, transmission, and prevention of HIV/AIDS in many communities in Western Kenya . This is often noticed during the question and answer sessions of presentations done by volunteers. Based on past questions, we have discovered that some Kenyans in the Bungoma, Busia, Mumias and Mt Elgon Districts believe that mosquitoes can spread HIV and that condoms have tiny holes through which the virus can pass. Since they believe these myths to be true, the population does not practiceproper, consistent use of condoms, which is essential in arresting the rapid spread of the virus.
Another common and dangerous belief is that people infected the HIV can rid themselves of the virus by passing the virus on to as many people as possible through repeated unprotected intercourse. Misconceptions such as these must be dispelled and replaced with facts about the virus. The provision of education, not only to increase knowledge but also to break the silence and stigma surrounding this disease, is essential to stop the continued devastation of society.
Despite the deteriorating circumstances in the Western Province , the situation is not irreparable. With appropriate and adequate responses, the epidemic and its effects can still be alleviated. Our programs have proven to be effective in working towards this. Hence, we continue with our campaign. Western volunteers working hand in hand with local community members continue to visit as many communities, schools, and groups as possible to bring awareness and resources to the people. We continue to provide training through the EMPOWER program and are constantly enhancing the program through input from the participants. With the help of donors and volunteers, Volunteer Kenya will continue its HIV/AIDS programs and its fight against the silence and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Anyone interested in participating in this program needs to contact their local Red Cross and undergo an AIDS Instructor training course. For Red Cross locations in your area please visit one of the following: http://www.redcross.org/where/where.html ( US ), http://www.redcross.ca/article.asp?id=000005&tid=003 ( Canada ) or http://www.redcross.org.uk/whereweare.asp?id=383 ( UK ). If the Red Cross does not offer training in your area, look into other HIV/AIDS training programs and obtain an outline of the course content. Contact us and we can determine whether the other course covers sufficient information to substitute for the Red Cross course.