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  • on 30.11.2012
  • at 07:16 PM
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The Price of Ignoring the Sexuality of Kenya’s HIV-Positive Youth 0

It all started with a fight, one that would change his life forever. It was in that moment of fighting with another teenage boy that Cedric Owino from the sprawling Mathare slum, one of Kenya’s biggest informal settlements, accidentally discovered that he was HIV positive.

Until then it had been a secret his grandmother had kept from him – for 15 years.

“While we were fighting, the mother of the other boy started shouting that I might scratch her son and infect him with HIV,” Owino, 15, tells IPS.

“Disclosure is not easy,” Mwema Omollo, Owino’s grandmother, tells IPS. “If you tell your child, you fear that it will change how they live. People are still very much afraid of HIV. My daughter refused to take antiretroviral (ARV) drugs when she discovered that she was HIV positive. I didn’t want this to become Cedric’s fate too.”

Her daughter was afraid that if she did take ARVs, people in her community who dispensed the medication would realise her status.

Since he found out, Owino has twice attempted suicide.

“My family knew I was infected, why tell me that the drugs I take are for asthma, while they know it’s because I am HIV positive?” he asks. He dropped out of grade eight at the Young Stars Academy soon after discovering his status.

Owino is not the only teenager struggling to come to terms with his status. Anthony Andega, another HIV positive 15-year-old, also tried to commit suicide when he found out two years ago.

He cut himself with a knife. But because of the stigma surrounding the virus, people refused to come to his aid. A friend of Andega’s later told him that even though he had been bleeding profusely, people refused to touch or help him.

“No one wants to touch where you have touched. You become isolated,” Andega tells IPS. Not only that, but the news of his status spread.

“In this neighbourhood, we go to the same schools. If people know you have HIV, this information is spread all over school,” he says.

The Kenya Population Data Sheet says stigma towards adolescents and teenagers living with HIV is high, with “55 percent of adolescents interviewed indicating that they preferred that the HIV status of their family members be kept secret.”

According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, of adults aged 15 to 64 years, an estimated 7.1 percent, or 1.4 million, are living with HIV in Kenya. Further, among youth aged 15 to 24 years, 3.8 percent are infected, rivalling older adults aged 50 to 64, whose prevalence is five percent.

By Miriam GathigahIPS Africa

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi