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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | East Africa | KENYA: Risky sexual behaviour persists among Meru men | Gender issues | News Items
Monday 10 July 2006
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KENYA: Risky sexual behaviour persists among Meru men

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

©  Jessica Hasslen/IRIN

John Mugombi believes sharing his status will encourage men to join the HIV/AIDS fight

MERU, 27 June (PLUSNEWS) - It's got to be the cliche of the decade, but still appeals to a certain type of man.

"Wearing a condom is like eating candy with the wrapper still on," said Erasmus Nyaga (not his real name) a 36-year-old matatu (public bus) driver in Meru, central Kenya. The same man said he took his girlfriends like medicine - one for breakfast, one for lunch and another for dinner.

Sitting under a tree, Erasmus was attending an HIV/AIDS awareness meeting with 15 other drivers, most of whom were married. Matatu drivers, in their brash and music-blasting vehicles, are seen as a "catch" by many young Kenyan girls. All but one said they had at least one girlfriend on the side.

Tom Kariuki (not his real name), a 56-year-old matatu driver, is the head, or "father" of the drivers HIV/AIDS awareness group. He has been to seminars about the pandemic conducted by Ripples International, a faith-based nongovernmental organisation that teaches education and prevention of HIV/AIDS and also supports those infected. He said, "I tell them about HIV, I tell them how to live a healthy life, but you can't make them get tested."

Behavior change is what men in this region fear most - despite an HIV infection rate of 30 percent.

"You tell an HIV positive man to use a condom or he will infect his wife, and he comes back a few months later with his wife, who is now infected, and he says, 'I couldn't use a condom, how could I explain it to her that now we have to use a condom - she is my wife'," said Mercy Chidi, the programme manager of Ripples in Meru, who has become frustrated with counselling men who do not heed her advice.

The stigma around HIV/AIDS in this very poor area still keeps people from disclosing their status or getting tested at all. Denial is also very common - while they fear AIDS, most men don't think it will happen to them.

"It is difficult for men, especially older men, to come forward," said John Mugombi, who has experienced HIV/AIDS denial first hand. "They would rather try to cover their status by marrying again when their wife dies."

Until a few years ago, Mugombi was a regular guy, living his cultural birth rite – a wife and a girlfriend. He was a respected shopkeeper in his village and had five children. His wife got sick and died from AIDS-related complications in 2002, and shortly afterwards, his girlfriend died as well. Mugombi could no longer deny the possibility that he too could be HIV-positive, and went for a test. After he tested positive, he radically altered his lifestyle.

"I decided to never marry again and not to have sex, to abstain completely," he said. "At first it was difficult, but God and the church have helped me very much."

Mugombi has known he is HIV-positive for 10 years now; his eight-year-old son is also HIV-positive. He and his son are both members of a community-based organisation for people living with HIV/AIDS created through the Methodist Church's HIV/AIDS programme, a novelty in Meru, where most support groups are dominated by women.

The support group is trying to raise funds to do educational training deep in the bush and has started an open-air campaign against HIV/AIDS in the local market. He strongly believes that speaking openly about his HIV-positive status will encourage men and share their own status so others can learn that HIV is real and needs to be controlled.

"Others came to me privately later [after the market sessions] to ask about going to the VCT [voluntary counselling and testing]," said Mugombi. "A problem shared is a problem solved."


Recent KENYA Reports
Getting the HIV/AIDS message to truckers and sex workers,  6/Jul/06
Free ARVs a step in the right direction, but much more needed,  19/Jun/06
HIV-positive prisoners often locked out of services,  14/Jun/06
My brother's keeper - community care saves lives ,  8/Jun/06
Treating little people with big problems at Gertrude's ,  25/May/06
· 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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