KENYA: Fidelity campaigns could take years to see results

An estimated 44, 000 new HIV infections occur every year among Kenyans in long-term relationships
NAIROBI, 1 February 2011 (PlusNews) - Your secret lover probably has a secret lover - Kenyans regularly hear this message through a campaign aimed at reducing the high rate of new infections occurring within marriage.

The two-year-old 'Wacha Mpango Wa Kando: Epuka Ukimwi' [Swahili: "Let Go of Your Side Relationship: Escape HIV] campaign is ubiquitous; it is on TV, on radio and on billboards. But has it made married Kenyans - responsible for an estimated 44 percent of new infections annually - change long-held habits?

It certainly has not stopped Benson*, a married father of two from Nairobi, from cheating on his wife. Shortly after his marriage seven years ago, he rekindled a relationship with an old flame.

"We broke up when I got married but we have since reconciled and we do have sex occasionally. I don't know whether she has other boyfriends," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "We do use a condom once in a while, but this is somebody who was my girlfriend so most of the time we just go without a condom. I believe it does no harm because she isn't a stranger to me."

"Those behaviour change adverts you are talking about - I have seen them, but adverts don't determine how I lead my life," he added.

Nor has the campaign affected the way Beryl*, a 21-year-old beauty salon assistant, conducts her sex life. She uses “sugar daddies” to supplement her income, and doesn't care whether they are married or not.

"It doesn't bother me being in a married man's life. My concern is getting the money. I have three men and so long as they don't know each other, things are OK. HIV is real, I know, but need for money is more immediate," she said.

"I would prefer that they use condoms, but I fear telling them," she added. "They are men aged over 40 so I leave the decision to use a condom to them... but most older men don't like condoms and each of them trust me, thinking he is the only one."

Beryl says she "hopes" she doesn't contract HIV, and takes birth control to prevent any unwanted pregnancies.

Waiting for change

The impact of the campaign - developed by the government and social marketing group Population Services International (PSI) - on behaviour change has not been evaluated, but experts say it could be a long while before its message has a significant impact.

''It doesn't bother me being in a married man's life. My concern is getting the money... HIV is real, I know, but need for money is more immediate''
"We are hoping to have an evaluation report out later this year, but this is a hard indicator to change - it could be years before we begin to see a transformation in behaviour," said Lucy Maikweki, PSI's director of HIV. "What we do know for sure is that the campaign is being heard; 'mpango wa kando' is now a buzzword for relationships on the side, and people are aware of the risks they are taking."

But with hundreds of Kenyans on social networks like Facebook forming groups of people actively seeking 'mpango wa kando' and popular radio call-in shows featuring segments on cheating spouses daily, it is clear that the phenomenon of "the other woman/man" is far from over.

Delving deeper

According to Emma Weru, a sociology lecturer at the University of Nairobi, behaviour change campaigns targeting married couples have limited success because they have so far failed to recognize the reasons leading to cheating among spouses.

"It is not enough to just tell people not to cheat on their spouses. People... cheat for various reasons," she said. "Some just for pleasure but there are underlying causes of spousal cheating like dissatisfaction, violence or joblessness of the breadwinner."

Weru noted that it was important to promote condoms alongside messages about fidelity in order to have a more rounded campaign.

Donna*, a married mother of one, cheats to get back at her husband, whom she says is regularly unfaithful to her. "I can't sit back while somebody is cheating on me, but the moment those TV and newspaper adverts make him stop being unfaithful, I will stop cheating too," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "But for now, it seems they haven't convinced him yet so it is tit for tat."

Donna isn't taking any risks though, and uses condoms whenever she has sex outside her marriage.

PSI's Maikweki noted that while the mass media campaign did not address the deeper issues that lead to infidelity, PSI's behaviour change communications peer educators did so in their community work. The organization hopes to involve new partners in the near future to broaden the scope of behaviour change communication across the country.

Read More
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 Tracing the multiple concurrent partner debate
 Challenging culture in HIV campaigns
 Love in the time of HIV/AIDS (in-depth)
She said as the mass media campaign involved 30-second slots, it needed to be single-minded and focused on one issue. "We chose the issue of faithfulness over condom use for the mass media campaigns because many of these side relationships are long-term and the partners have a strong bond of trust, so condoms are dispensed with early on."

More research needed

A 2009 analysis of the campaign noted that there was a need for more research to further understand multiple concurrent partnerships, including the different types of concurrent partnerships in Kenya and the dynamics of the decision-making process around condom use within trusted, concurrent partnerships.

According to Nicholas Muraguri, head of the National AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections Control Programme, results may be slow, but behaviour change will happen.

"You don't expect people to change overnight and you don't expect everybody to heed the call, but I believe the campaigns will go a long way in reducing HIV in stable unions," he said. "We have also been very consistent in promoting consistent condom use to Kenyans in every sexual relationship they might be in, including in stable unions."

*not a real name


Theme (s): Education, Gender Issues, Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Media - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Urban Risk,

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

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