KENYA: One million testing target for youth campaign

Nearly two-thirds of Kenyans have never been tested for HIV
Nairobi, 22 April 2009 (PlusNews) - At a recent concert in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, young men in baggy jeans and fashionably dressed young women danced and sang along with the popular local artists on stage.

"Wadhii wana vision ni wale wako sure na status yao, au sio? [People with vision are the ones who are sure of their HIV status, right?]" yelled the MC, in Sheng, a Swahili-based patois used by Nairobi youth. The crowd roared their approval.

The "Jijue" or "Know Yourself" concert was about more than music; the organizers hoped the young people there would also test for HIV.

Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) booths were scattered around the concert venue and several young celebrities were tested to inspire their fans. Those who followed their example received a neon bracelet, and by the end of the concert hundreds of bracelets lit up the venue.

The event was part of a campaign by I Choose Life - Africa, a local NGO, to persuade one million young Kenyans to be tested for HIV. More than 14,000 have used the opportunity since the campaign started at the end of February.

"It is chilling when you know that one out every 10 Kenyans do not know about voluntary counselling and testing," said Mike Mutungi, executive director of I Choose Life - Africa. "If we claim that the youth are the future, then we must start preserving that future today."

''It is chilling when you know that one out of every 10 Kenyans do not know about voluntary counselling and testing''
Ministry of Health figures show that nearly two-thirds of Kenyans have never had an HIV test. One of the main reasons, according to a 2007 survey, is that they do not see themselves as being at risk. Other reasons include not wanting to know their status, lack of knowledge about HIV testing and the distance to VCT centres.

The Jijue campaign uses events like street music festivals and testing drives at universities. "By using fun, we have been able to reach out to many youth," Mutungi said.

I Choose Life - Africa has partnered with Liverpool VCT Care and Treatment Services, which has VCT centres around the country, to facilitate testing at campaign events, and there is also a toll-free line for counselling and information about local testing sites. Services such as TB screening, pap smears for women, breast cancer screening and free condom distribution are also available at Jijue events.

Kelly Ochieng, an accounting student at a local college, recently became an ambassador for the Jijue campaign, which means not only being tested but encouraging other young people to do the same.

"It is cool to know one's status because it makes you be sure of where you are going; even if you turn out to be positive, at least you know how to organize yourself for the future," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "I know it is a nervous thing, but it is worth the sweat."

Young people between the ages of 10 and 24 make up one-third of Kenya's population. Although a higher proportion of people in the 30 to 34 age group are infected with HIV, young people remain at risk.

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Young women are particularly vulnerable, withstatistics showing that they are fourtimes more likely (6.1 percent) to be infected than their male peers (1.5 percent).

The government recently announced plans to roll out door-to-door counselling and HIV testing services in an effort to increase the number of people who know their status.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

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

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