Kenyan youth on the front lines of the war against HIV/AIDS

In the rural heartland of Siaya County and the larger western Kenya where Achieng has been mobilizing fellow youth to fight for an AIDS free future, infection rates are yet to subside, fueled by a mix of social-cultural factors. According to Achieng, the virus is taking a heavier toll on youth in the countryside amid lack of information on how to prevent its spread coupled with inability to access quality treatment

By The Weekly Vision Online

Caroline Achieng’s eloquence, sense of humor and wit stood out as she explained to youthful peers the guardrails which were at their disposal to help them keep HIV and AIDS at bay. The 24-year-old woman who discovered her HIV positive status at the age of 17 has earned celebrity status in the tranquil farming villages of Siaya County, thanks to her relentless fight against HIV/AIDS.

Achieng’s ability to captivate audiences was on display on Nov. 26 when she addressed a group of adolescents and youth urging them to be on the lookout amid the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS. “There is no denying that ignorance, cavalier attitude and some cultural myths have exposed adolescents and youth in rural areas to HIV/AIDS,” Achieng told the media on the sidelines of a public education forum in Siaya County ahead of World AIDS Day on Wednesday. “But we can turn the tide through creating awareness on preventive tools available,” she added.

As Kenya marked 2021 World AIDS Day, there was a growing consensus on the need to involve high-risk demographics including the youth in efforts to reduce new infections. Kenya’s HIV estimates report of 2020 said that there were about 1.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, with some 177,600 aged 15 to 24 years.  In the rural heartland of Siaya County and the larger western Kenya where Achieng has been mobilizing fellow youth to fight for an AIDS free future, infection rates are yet to subside, fueled by a mix of social-cultural factors.

Catherine Atieno, a 24-year-old grassroots advocate, noted that by bonding together, the rural youth have been able to share knowledge and best practices that are key to containing HIV/AIDS

According to Achieng, the virus is taking a heavier toll on youth in the countryside amid lack of information on how to prevent its spread coupled with inability to access quality treatment.  She noted that in Siaya County alone, about 12,245 young people aged 15 to 24 years are living with HIV/AIDS, hence the need for more investments in counseling, testing and life-long care.  Trained as a community mobilizer and paralegal officer, Achieng has extended outreach to her youthful peers to enlighten them on HIV prevention tools, novel treatment and care. “I usually conduct home visits to educate the youth on how to prevent HIV infections besides teaching them on their rights in case they are infected,”

Flaviance Ouma Omondi, a 23-year-old agribusiness major, said that participating in focus groups to learn how the virus is acquired and the treatment has been a rewarding experience

The Global Fund has provided financial support to facilitate peer learning among the youth in Siaya County and training of paralegals as part of the AIDS fight targeting this vulnerable demographic. Flaviance Ouma Omondi, a 23-year-old agribusiness major, said that participating in focus groups to learn how the virus is acquired and the treatment has been a rewarding experience. The feisty soccer player who lives with his grandmother in a serene village in Siaya County admitted that the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS abound in rural areas though aggressive campaigns were bearing some fruits. “I started attending the peer learning sessions early this year and they have improved my understanding of AIDS, its prevention, treatment and management,” said Omondi. He said that besides education, the youth also require economic empowerment to shield them from HIV/AIDS, amid evidence that poverty, illiteracy, lack of skills and unemployment had escalated their vulnerability.

Catherine Atieno, a 24-year-old grassroots advocate, noted that by bonding together, the rural youth have been able to share knowledge and best practices that are key to containing HIV/AIDS. According to Atieno, village-based focus groups have been instrumental in enlightening the youth on sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence and financial stability. “We believe that peer learning and outreaches are effective HIV prevention tools,” said Atieno, adding that as the number of youth informed about HIV/AIDS grows, the infection rate has been stabilizing

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