NAIROBI, November 19 – Local and international non-governmental organisations on Wednesday raised concern over a sharp increase of HIV/AIDS among married and cohabiting couples in Kenya, with two thirds of people testing positive being in such relationships.,
The Centre for Study of Adolescents Executive Director Rosemarie Muganda, said there was urgent need for the government to shift its HIV/AIDS related programs to include couples while formulating policies to support implementation of the programs.
“We always assume that it’s safe in marriage but we do realise now that it is not necessarily the case,” she stated during the launch of a 12-minute film titled ‘The Silent Partner’ which focuses on HIV in marriage.
“So what we would like to see is parliamentarians speaking about these not as marginal issues that are spoken about after everything else has been discussed but as important issues,” she said and added that there was need to also address the root causes of the upsurge.
A reproductive health expert at Pathfinder International, Ms Pamela Onduso emphasised the importance of counselling and testing among married couples.
“We also know that 7.5 percent of married couples are discordant, where one is HIV positive and another is negative and so we are learning belatedly and to our surprise that being married is also a risk factor,” she said.
The documentary highlighted the pertinent issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in marriage with a specific emphasis on women.
“This is so because women are the most affected. In most cases men are unfaithful due to cultural issues although this is not to say that women always remain faithful,” Ms Muganda explained.
“But women also face the challenge of sexual violence in marriage and statistics show 43 percent of married women in Kenya report physical or sexual violence in marriage,” she added.
She pointed out that sexual violence in marriage had been a controversial subject in Kenya with some arguing that it could not happen in marriage. (A clause in the Sexual Offences Act that proposed penalties on this was removed before it was passed after parliamentarians argued that there could be no rape in marriage).
Ms Judith Atieno who knew her status in 1995 while in her fourth pregnancy and five years into marriage, shares her experiences in the documentary.
Ms Atieno narrated how she separated from her husband after learning of her status because she constantly blamed him.
“When I was forced to a test during an antenatal clinic, it was not a big deal to me because I was married and I didn’t see how I could be positive,” she disclosed.
“But when I went for the results, the nurse told me they have found some little strain of HIV in my blood. I just went blank, I thought there was a mistake because I was married young, from a Christian background and my husband was healthy. I went straight to my husband office, threw the results on the table and told him ‘congratulations you have done it’,” she narrated.
“I would advise young people to know their status before getting into marriage and also have regular tests in marriage. And please, be faithful,” she concluded.