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By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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Too many young men and women are still dying from preventable causes whose source is quite natural — sex.

Things may not be as bad as they used to be in the 1990s, but reports that thousands of adolescents and youths aged between 15 and 24 years have been succumbing to opportunistic diseases associated with HIV/Aids infections every year is quite sobering for the simple reason that, in this day and age, it need not happen.

Even more confounding is the contradictory situation in which, while the number of infections has steadily declined this past decade, the number of Aids-related deaths has been rising steadily.

The explanation for this curious phenomenon is that many people living with HIV, and who are under anti-retroviral drugs treatment, keep dropping out presumably placing their hopes on herbs, witchdoctors or homilies by priests.

The problem is, the former two have never really worked, while the last one is a question of faith.

Kenya has come a long way since those days when HIV/Aids was the most fearsome affliction known to people.

In the 1980s when it was a worldwide pandemic, it is estimated that 3.3 million people died of the virus every year until 2005 when serious interventions by governments the world over cut by a third the number of fatalities.

Things are a lot better now, but the challenges, especially those borne of wilful ignorance, have not gone away.

This year alone, an estimated 1.4 million Kenyans are said to be living with HIV, and the number of unreported cases is bound to be higher.

Although an infection is no longer considered to be a death sentence, such figures indicate that in at least one respect, awareness about how the virus is transmitted and the protective measures needed have not really sunk in among a significant segment of the population.

The reasons are quite puzzling, especially among those who live in cities and are not as impeded by lack of health facilities like their rural counterparts.

Today, very few people, even in the remotest rural areas, believe that when they contract HIV/Aids, it has anything to do with some village crones bewitching them.

Such retarded thinking pushed back awareness about Aids by many years and led to unnecessary waste of life. The days of the dreaded “chira” and other tall tales are long over.

Secondly, very few believe any longer that if you breathe the same air as your infected acquaintance, or you drink from a cup he has used, you will soon die of Aids.

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Most people now know that HIV is mostly transmitted through sexual congress and such scares no longer make sense.

Incidentally, I happen to know quite a number of healthy people who long ago stopped living in denial, started taking ARVs regularly, and are now leading relatively productive lives and bringing up their families comfortably.

It may sound trite to say that a cure for HIV/Aids has not been found yet, but I’ll say it anyway.

Right now, the only thing that can be done is to contain the plague through sustained use of ARVs in combination with other drugs to manage opportunistic conditions like tuberculosis and meningitis.

Indeed, with that knowledge, the infection and prevalence rates should go down.

Short of this, we might as well go back to the dark ages where, apparently, some men of the cloth want to lead our youths.

It was astonishing to learn that religious leaders are still vehemently opposed to the use of condoms as a prophylaxis during sex.

In my view, it is high time they tried to understand the use of a condom, not as a contraceptive, but as a guard against contracting sexually transmitted diseases and the more debilitating HIV/Aids.

While it is not wise to delve into matters religious because arguments of such nature are always inconclusive, it is irresponsible of clergymen to dissuade youths from protecting themselves. The majority simply won’t abstain from sex, whatever anyone says.

There is nothing wrong with abstinence per se, but in real life, telling young people to practise it is like pounding water in a mortar. In a perfect world, everyone should wait until they marry, but ours is hardly ideal.

The only thing that such counsel does is to make the young feel guilty about their sexual urges at an age when their hormones are raging.

In fact, the priests are themselves living in denial, which is why this Church has been under a cloud over allegations of sexual abuse dating back to historical times.

Religious leaders are supposed to show their flock the right path to follow, and reiterating some obscure doctrine does not help.

If they cannot do it, then the job should be taken over by professional counsellors who are more in touch with reality.

There is no use preaching to a young person living with the virus about the will of God if a harmless latex sheath could have prevented the infection in the first place. I wish someone would prove me wrong.



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