Health-Information Sources for Kenyan Adolescents: Implications for Continuing HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Pratt, Cornelius B.; Obeng-Quaidoo, Isaac et al. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Health-Information Sources for Kenyan Adolescents: Implications for Continuing HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa


Pratt, Cornelius B., Obeng-Quaidoo, Isaac, Okigbo, Charles, James, E. Lincoln, The Western Journal of Black Studies


The transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and their health consequences in sub-Saharan Africa indicate no sign of abating. For example, it has been estimated that if current HIV/AIDS infection trends continue, by 2010, life expectancy will be less than 40 years in eight African countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe (U.S. Department of State, 1999). (Kenya's estimate is 43.7 years.). Consequently, within nine months, at least two major international conferences sought to bring increasing attention to the scourge. The first was in September 12-16, 1999, when the Eleventh International Conference on AIDS and STDs in Africa was held in Lusaka, Zambia. Its theme, "Setting Priorities for HIV/AIDS in Africa," cast those diseases in paradoxical terms: Despite communication and health programs implemented over a decade in attempts to reduce their incidence in sub-Saharan Africa, the region faces a much higher incidence of the disease than at the start of this decade. In May 15-20, 2000, the World Health Organization held its annual conference in Geneva, this time pledging "to give new directions and a new energy to an expanded, revitalized response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic" (Brundtland, 2000). Health agencies in the region must, therefore, revisit their priorities and search for more effective strategies to halt the devastating scourge of a variety of diseases, the most devastating of which are HIV/AIDS.

It was in tandem with those concerns that this study was undertaken to examine socio-cultural factors that underlie sexual practices and sexually transmitted diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. It also explores sources from which teenagers in Kenya get information on health or health-related problems and on contraceptives that they can use to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy.

This study is guided by four overarching realities: (a) the endemic nature of STDs, particularly heterosexually transmitted HIV/AIDS in Africa (Quinn, 1996); (b) the high rate of HIV/AIDS on the continent, as a consequence of the high rate of STDs (Green, 1994; "Improved STD Treatment," 1995; Rushing, 1995; U.S. Department of State, 1999); (c) the importance of controlling STDs in the fight against AIDS in developing countries (Grosskurth, Plummer, & Mabey, 1993; Rushing, 1995; Williams, 1992); and (d) the 60% rate of new HIV infections among 15- to 24-year-olds worldwide. A study conducted at Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital found, for example, that 23% of 15- to 19-year-old women who visited an antenatal clinic had STDs (Aggarwal & Matu, 1992). Similarly, U.S. women between the ages 15 and 19 have the highest incidence of gonorrhea and males of a similar age group the second-highest of any age group in the United States (Division of STD Prevention, 1999).

Why Kenya and Its Adolescents?

We focus on Kenya for three reasons. First, it is one of the world's youngest countries; 52% of its 30 million people are younger than 15. People between the ages of 10 and 19 comprise about 25% of its population and are the fastest-growing segment in the country (Center for the Study, 1995). Those patterns justify the focus of this study on teenagers.

Second, the country's adolescent fertility rates are among the world's highest. Njau and Radeny (1995) note that Kenya's "high teenage sexual activity is reflected in the incidence of pregnancy, abortion, and STDs" (p. 2). One in five women aged 15 to 19 years has begun childbearing, either given birth or being pregnant with her first child. Seventeen percent had one child, and another 8.6% were pregnant, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys of 1989 and 1990. Illinigumugabo, Njau, & Rog (1994) reported in their study of four rural districts in Kenya that 81% of girls aged 15 to 19 years had at least one pregnancy, 14% two pregnancies, and 3.2% three.

Third, Kenya is strategically positioned as the port of call en route to the trans-Africa highway. …

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