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Kenya Red Cross Sees Shift in Attitude Toward Safe Sex

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Michael Onyiego

As the Kenyan Red Cross moves to meet a condom shortage in Kenya, the group is seeing positive changes in attitudes towards sexual health.

On Friday, the Kenya Red Cross delivered an emergency shipment of male and female condoms to the people of Mashambani, a village in the Isiolo region in the Eastern Province of Kenya. Nearly 90,000 condoms were delivered to the rural area, where the shortage of prophylactics was creating what observers deemed a health emergency.

According to Kenya Red Cross spokesperson Nelly Mulaka, the residents of Mashambani were resorting to extreme measures in order to protect themselves.

“They were using polythene papers, some of them were recycling condoms, some of them were using cloths and so on. Those are methods that cannot work,” Mulaka said.

Such methods are troubling, especially in a country in the midst of an HIV epidemic. According to the United Nations, as many as 1.5 million Kenyans were living with HIV in 2009, exactly the same number infected in 2001.

But according to Mulaka, the case of Mashambani presents cause for hope. Mulaka explained it was the residents of the rural village who reported the shortage of condoms to the Red Cross, demonstrating the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns over the past few years.

“We are happy when we see such people coming up to demand, to ask,” Mulaka added. “Because for a long time, when we began the project, we had a problem. At the beginning people could not stand listening to this kind of information but with time they started slowly accepting this.”

The condom distribution program is part of an ongoing collaboration between Kenya Red Cross, UN Populations Fund and the Government of Kenya in an effort to educate the public about sexual health and destigmatize safe sex practices.

And Mulaka said the situation in Mashambani reflects the growing trend throughout Kenya. Though the programs of Kenya Red Cross met with initial resistance just years ago, more and more communities are embracing their efforts.

“The awareness creation is actually working,” de-stigmatize said. “People are now knowing and we are happy because our aim at the end of the day is to see that the statistics of HIV infections goes down and this is a good sign.”

The program focuses on marginalized areas and emergency action where - as in the case of Mashambani - condoms and other protective measures are brought to areas that are most in need. Mulaka urged rural communities across Kenya to report such shortages before their residents are put at risk.

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