HIV/AIDS is complex. A horrific disease that affects all parts of life, it is also specific in that in attacks a community in a multitude of ways. No region is exactly the same in how it is affected by HIV, and so our approaches to combating it require us to apply contextual approaches to each individual community.
No where is HIV/AIDS so prolific and total as in rural Africa. In the Lwala region of western Kenya, 24% of the population is HIV positive. Here is a peek into one of the places where HIV is rampant - and five issues that complicate the problem.
1. Polygamy It is still common for some tribes to observe the Old Testament practice of polygamy. If one member of the marriage is HIV positive, it passes to everyone else. Concurrent sexual relationships give flame to a fire that becomes difficult to stop.
2. Circumcision Most baby boys in western Kenya are not circumcised. However, studies show that HIV transmission is reduced up to 70% for men who are circumcised. There are significant efforts being made in the region to encourage voluntary adult male circumcision.
3. Maternal/Child Health In the region where we work in Lwala, Kenya, only 35% of women deliver their children with a skilled attendant or qualified nurse. Sufficient medical care is essential during labor and delivery in order to prevent transmission from mother to child, and unfortunately, it often comes too late or not at all.
4. Gender Inequality Women in Africa are not valued as highly as men. They are not given equal access to education and employment. They are seen more as property than as valuable citizens. Because of this vast gender inequality, most women lack the ability to say no to a man, even if he is her husband. The population at greatest risk for HIV is married African women. In Lwala, 67% of our HIV patients are women.
5. Stigma HIV/AIDS is our modern-day leprosy. It drips with shame and fear, making it extremely difficult for people to be open about their status. The fear associated with HIV/AIDS breeds ostracizing and hateful acts and so people continue to live in fear, full of guilt and shame and hiding their disease. Even more, when HIV/AIDS is kept secret by individuals, it prevents a community's ability to address the issue together - to speak about prevention and provide treatment in a safe and caring environment.
This list could go on and on. But the good news is that Lwala and other communities in Africa are not alone in their fight against HIV/AIDS. To learn more about how Blood:Water Mission partners with communities in Africa to address the HIV/AIDS crisis, click here. To learn more about our partner in Lwala, Kenya, Lwala Community Alliance, visit their website here.
*Photo Credit: Chris Pereira for Lwala Community Alliance.