Girls aged between 15 and 24 are three times more likely to be infected with HIV/Aids than boys in the same age group, due to sex tourism and the so-called “sponsor” culture in the Coast region.
According to the National Aids Control Council Coordinator for the Coast region Julius Koome, young girls flocking to the beaches in Diani, Mombasa and Kilifi are vulnerable to sex predators.
“HIV is a major issue among young women and adolescent girls. The probability of girls contracting the virus is two to three times higher than boys in Kilifi, Taita Taveta, and Kwale counties due to sponsor culture, early marriage and sex tourism,” he said.
He said according to 2013 to 2015 statistics, the region experienced 62 per cent new infections with 31 per cent in girls aged 15 to 24 years.
He spoke during the launch of a Girls Act Project, which aims to prevent new HIV infections and to improve access to holistic healthcare which includes testing and treatment of HIV-positive patients.
46% NEW HIV INFECTIONS AMONG THOSE AGED 15-24
The project was launched by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), at the Wild Waters Centre in Mombasa, where 200 girls from underprivileged families from Kilifi and Mombasa counties were taught about HIV.
AHF, a global non-profit organisation that provides HIV prevention, testing and treatment, operates in 39 countries including Kenya, and so far it has reached over 15,000 young women and girls in Kenya, since the Girls Act Project was launched in 2016.
AHF Africa Deputy Bureau Chief Wamae Maranga said the initiative is aimed at reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and ensuring all adolescent girls living with HIV are enrolled and retained in care and treatment.
“With statistics indicating that 46 per cent of all new HIV infections occur among young people aged 15 to 24 years, it is important to focus on this group.
“We also want to empower young women and girls by boosting their self-esteem,” said Dr Maranga, emphasising that the group needed psychosocial support and information on the dangers of engaging in early sex, as a way of curbing new infections.
The new initiative is also meant to increase health-seeking behaviour among youth in this age group, as well as to reduce stigma against HIV-positive people.
“We are incorporating recreational exercises and talent development alongside education, to pass on information that touches on HIV/Aids,” the organisation’s senior public relations manager Oluwakemi Gbadamosi, said.
The Girls Act Project was first launched in Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa, before spreading its wings to Kenya, where AHF has projects in nine counties including Nairobi, Kisii, Nakuru, Turkana, Homa Bay, Murang’a, Kilifi and Makueni.
NACC Coordinator for the Coast region Mr Koome said that the initiative would help more girls and young women know their HIV status, as well as equip them with information to help them make informed choices to safeguard their health.
He added that in addition to sexual exploitation, early marriage and drug abuse (sharing needles) had led to high HIV infection rates among girls and young women, as well as alarming school dropout rates.
Author: WINNIE ATIENO