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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | East Africa | KENYA: Fish trade aiding the spread of HIV/AIDS | | Focus
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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KENYA: Fish trade aiding the spread of HIV/AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  John Nyaga/IRIN

A nurse prepares ARVs for a patient at an HIV/AIDS clinic run by MSF in Homa Bay, western Kenya

BONDO, 5 December (PLUSNEWS) - Isaya Onyango, a 47-year-old fisherman, lives in Liunda village near the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. He spends most of his nights in a dugout canoe, fishing the lake. His wife and children, who he visits occasionally, live far away in another village.

Onyango says loneliness compelled him to start living with a female fishmonger he befriended on the beach, where most of the fish trade is carried out.

"I felt the need for companionship, so we started living together," explained Onyango, who added that affairs between fishermen and women fish traders were commonplace.

Lake Victoria is the world's second largest freshwater lake and renown for its rich harvests of tilapia and Nile perch. Sadly, the region has also gained a reputation for having the highest HIV-prevalence rate in Kenya.

The average HIV-infection rate in Nyanza Province, which falls within the lake basin, is 15 percent, compared with the national prevalence rate of 7 percent. In the villages along the shores of Lake Victoria and on the isles that dot its surface, HIV/AIDS has taken a heavy toll.

Experts have indicated that the lifestyle of people involved in the fish trade increases their likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviour and could be one of the reasons for the high prevalence rates in the region.

Women fish traders regularly buy fish from specific fishermen, and in the process they develop relationships. "It is something they call jaboya [a customer who is also a lover] in the Luo language," said Bernard Oduor Olayo, a doctor who has worked in hospitals in Nyanza and a member of the Luo community.

"So that kind of unsafe sexual practice is one thing which I think contributes to the high HIV prevalence among people along the lake," he said. "If you look at the communities living around the lake in Kenya, Tanzanian and Uganda, those communities have a very high HIV prevalence."

The sexual relationships between fishermen and women fish mongers in most cases happen because the catch is not always bountiful, according to Grace Ayieko, who works in Nyanza with Community AIDS International, a grassroots NGO funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

"Most fish buyers are women. Whenever fish are scarce, fishermen prefer to sell to the women, who often become lovers of the fishermen - kind of giving sexual favours to ensure a consistent supply of fish for their trade," said Ayieko.

"Many of these women, the majority of whom have either been widowed or separated, then become jaboya. If they are infected, the men - some of whom have multiple jaboya - then infect their wives," she added.

The fact that fishing is often a nocturnal activity also makes them vulnerable to risky sexual behaviour, according to Olayo.

"One pertinent feature of lake culture is that these people work at night - people have to be away from home, just like truck drivers. Couples traditionally have sex at night, but fishermen are never there at night when they should interact with their wives and families," he explained.

Most men enter the fish trade when they are very young, as apprentices to their fathers, and receive little or no schooling. Lack of education and financial know-how makes members of the fishing communities more likely to mismanage the money they earn, according to Olayo.

"They have money but no investment knowledge," he said. "They don't bank [money], so they use it for those kinds of risky sexual behaviours."

Ayieko said HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and treatment opportunities were rarely available to the fisher folk, most of whom live and work in the islands and along the beaches of Lake Victoria.

"Most of the NGOs are concentrated in the mainland, leaving people in the fish trade isolated in terms of awareness creation and treatment," she said.

She lamented that little had been done to address the issue of HIV/AIDS in relation to the Luo culture, saying traditions such as the jaboya sexual relationships between fishermen and women fishmongers had become the norm among members of the ethnic group, which inhabits most of the lake basin.

"HIV/AIDS has not been looked at in relation to culture in this region," she said.

[HIV/AIDS a major health issue in western region]


Recent KENYA Reports
HIV/AIDS a major health issue in western province,  5/Dec/05
Cultural traditions fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS,  30/Nov/05
Caring for Nairobi's HIV-positive orphans,  4/Oct/05
Govt promises expansion of free ARVs,  4/May/05
Health centre to treat HIV/AIDS patients inaugurated,  28/Apr/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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