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Peter Mutai, Coastweek: Mobile telephony companies replace HIV Aids adverts

Mobile telephony companies replace HIV Aids adverts
by Peter Mutai, September 30, 2011



NAIROBI (Xinhua) — Billboards were part of HIV Aids awareness campaign messages from mid 1980s to late 1990s that to some extent made the virus look like a multimillion industry, but this is no more.

Today, the billboards that carried the messages that educated the citizens on the dangers of contracting HIV Aids are no more as the billboards that use[d] to house them have since been [replaced] by mobile telephony [advertisements].

From Busia town on the Western border town with Uganda to Mombasa and Namanga to the Eastern side bordering Tanzania, the information was everywhere with messages written in English, local languages and Kiswahili.

As this was taking place, many donors stopped funding other diseases like the non communicable ones and opted to attend to HIV Aids that was seen as the world’s destroyer.

“Ukimwi ua” and “Ukimwi ni Hatari”, Aids kills, Aids is dangerous, were amongst messages that were strategically placed on the boards to enable road users have a clear glimpse and change their way of life.

The advertisements were written in all vernacular languages in the country and placed in the ethnic base of the communities to enable the local people read, understand and act accordingly.

Vernacular radio stations were also awash with educative messages from experts and those the few infected people who volunteered to share their condition with others.

But today, the billboards are still in their rightful places but are occupied by announcements from the mobile telephony companies such as Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and Yu, that continue to outdo each other as they compete for space in the Kenyan market.

According to Professor Alloys Orago, Director of National Aids Control Council (NACC), the messages disappeared from the boards because the donors stopped funding the awareness campaign.

“We are soon getting back to using outdoor campaigns as we have identified donors who are willing to support the program,” he noted.

Orago said that in the absence of the messages, the fight of the scourge has been hectic as people believe in seeing but the information was instead lacking.

“We do not have funds for the serious advertisements at the moment but we are also using different strategies in creating awareness on how best to tackle the virus,” he added.

According to statistics from the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey (KAIS) 2007, HIV Aids prevalence rate is currently 7.1 percent, signs that the number of new infections are increasing instead of reducing.

Orago noted that the trend is worrying but is certain that the strategies put in place are expected to help reduce the rate of infections in the near future.

Deputy Director and Head of HIV Prevention unit at the National Aids Control Program (NASCOP) Peter Cheruitich said that the war is fast being won since most people are now aware of their status as they go purposely to the hospitals for tests.

Cheruitich said the billboards will be back soon as part of the awareness campaign to boost the self initiative testing that has just been launched.

“We need to assist our people to read literature to enable them learn the latest development in the war against HIV Aids,” he said.

He noted that in a bid to help boost response towards HIV Aids, the government is set to force every Kenyan visiting a medical facility to take an HIV test.

This comes after earlier attempts to encourage all adults to know their health HIV status receive little attention as about 40 percent of Kenyans have never undergone the test.

According to records at NASCOP, the high number of infections has hampered government’s plans to control new HIV infections which remain high at 7 percent.

“We are now proposing more options to enable us avail the universal access to HIV testing, by combining routine testing in primary health care and self testing,” added Cheruitich.

Several studies conducted in the country demonstrate that persons with HIV often visit health facilities years before receiving an HIV diagnosis, and that implementation of screening for all patients could help identify infected persons earlier in the course of their ailment.

But professor Joseph Karanja, an obstetrician and gynecology expert and also an associate professor at the University of Nairobi , said the upsurge of HIV Aids cases in the country has in essence shifted donor’s attention away from other diseases.

One of the casualties is the Family Planning programs that has since collapsed due to lack of funds as initial donors to the program have moved to supporting HIV Aids programs.

“The government and donors need to put up a working budget since all diseases affects human beings in the same way. Staving sections of diseases at the expense of one is not the best solution to disease burdened country like Kenya ,” said Karanja.

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