How Sharon murder complicates fight against HIV/AIDS

By Seth Odongo

The gruesome murder of Sharon Otieno, the female student of Rongo University who was formerly married to a school teacher in Migori comes at a time recent data on HIV/AIDS show a spike in new infections nationally and more so in the four counties of Migori, Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay.

The fight against HIV/AIDS in Kenya is entering turbulent times with indications that global donors are less and less enthusiastic about sinking billions into the war. Reports from the US government indicate millions of dollars for this critical area has been rechanneled elsewhere.

While we’ve long depended on the solidarity and benevolence of countries like the United States, local political realities in these countries are seeing more inward-looking governments that do not necessarily share the global enthusiasm to combat HIV/AIDS. It means we in Africa who depended almost entirely on the global community for essential HIV/AIDS medicare and related support systems must rethink our own actions.

Lost in the ongoing conversation around the murder of Sharon, who was pregnant, is a silent nuance about the burden of HIV/AIDS vis-à-vis that of pregnancy.

Many of you have heard statements like “I better be infected than get pregnant,” “chame kata ondilo” which roughly translates to “just have sex with him/her…it does not matter that he/she is on the pills”, “okimi tinde wang’iyogo” (we are used to HIV/AIDS) etc.

For young women, these false comparisons can be dismissed as ignorance or even foolishness but it is their lived reality. Compared to the social and societal burden attached to pregnancies before marriage; especially pregnancies while living under the care of your parents in rural areas, HIV/AIDS to many adolescent girls and young women is a lesser evil.

The situation is further complicated by the power iniquities inherent in multiple sexual relationships. And where the motivation is financial gain, thus an escape from the sort of dehumanizing poverty of Luo Nyanza, protection as a preventive measure is not negotiable. It is out of the equation.

Yet in the cold-blood, chilling murder of Sharon because ‘she refused to procure abortion’, as word on the streets has it, the ‘safety’ that adolescent girls and young women have attached to pregnancies has itself been blown off. Gone also is the very logic that permeates these relationships: that monied men are a safe passage to prosperity. Sometimes this works, other times it backfires, and brutally so.

The new spike of HIV/AIDS infections is happening in sexual power matrices such as those of Sharon and Obado. In Luo nyanza, with the lap of luxury created by devolution bounty, formerly poor men now have the money and social prestige to indulge and a people who are naturally promiscuous are overdoing it.

Very very sad!

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