Playing At Home is Safer
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|Two-thirds of HIV-positive Kenyans are either married or cohabiting|
(PlusNews) – Marriage is not a safe haven from HIV; in fact, the pandemic is spreading rapidly among married people in Kenya. This is the core message of a new campaign to discourage extramarital sex.
“Wacha mpango wa kando; epuka ukimwi” – Swahili for “stop relationships on the side; avoid HIV” – is the name of the initiative developed by Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme, and the National AIDS Control Council.
“Our campaign is necessitated by the increasing number of infections in marriages,” said Lucy Maikweki, deputy director of HIV and communication at PSI.
Print ads warn cheating married people that their “spare wheel” could have their own spare wheel, who could also have a spare wheel, who could be HIV-positive, putting the whole chain in jeopardy.
A series of TV spots feature a couple sitting in their living room watching a televised HIV message on fidelity. The woman is warned that if her husband is very secretive with his phone, it may be because he is cheating. The man is warned that if the woman is keen to change the channel when the HIV message comes on, she may be hiding something.
According to the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey, in 10 percent of monogamous couples and 14 percent of polygamous unions at least one partner is HIV positive, while two-thirds of HIV-infected Kenyans are in stable relationships.
“There are signs of an increased number of discordant couples [where only one partner is HIV-positive], which is a clear indicator of rising levels of infidelity in marriage and other long-term sexual relationships,” Maikweki said.
A 2007 study by Kenya’s University of Nairobi found that 17 percent of men surveyed and eight percent of women reported having extramarital relationships.
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PSI’s campaign targets men like Joshua Omondi*, an upwardly mobile sales representative who says he is happily married but gets bored with the monotony of a single sexual partner. For the past year, he has been having a relationship with a young university student.
“I cannot be with my wife every day … I just need a break from the family boredom, so we meet in a night club every weekend where we have a good time and later get to spend a night somewhere; after that I go home to my wife and children,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.
Omondi does not use condoms with either his wife or mistress. “Initially [my girlfriend] and I used a condom while having sex but we later stopped because I thought I could trust her enough,” he said. “Using a condom with my wife when I get back home is unthinkable, because that will definitely lead to mistrust.”
Maikweki said many people involved in extramarital affairs did not use condoms for similar reasons. “There is some false sense of trust over time,” she said.
The “wacha mpango wa kando” campaign also encourages couples to be tested for HIV, not just at the start of a relationship, but well into marriage and other long-term relationships.
Omondi has seen the campaign, but is ambivalent about its message. “The campaign is a good one, but, you see, I trust the woman I go out with and so that advert is not meant for me,” he said. “After all, it encourages sticking to my wife, which I am not ready to do anytime soon.”
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PSI is conducting a survey to assess the impact of the campaign, but it appears to be having a positive effect on Agatha, a married woman who admits to having lovers besides her husband.
“The new TV campaign strikes you when you watch it,” she said. “You have the feeling you should use a condom with an extramarital partner.”
*Not his real name