Rich Kenyans hardest hit by HIV, says study

A medical worker takes a blood sample from baby during a voluntarily counselling and testing drive. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Money, power and excessive lifestyle listed among factors contributing to spread of the disease

HIV is most prevalent among wealthy Kenyans, according to a new study published by the government and a UN agency.

At least 7.2 per cent of Kenya’s most wealthy are infected by the virus compared to 4.6 per cent of Kenya’s poorest, the Kenya Aids Epidemic Update released this week reports.

Money, power and lifestyle are among the contributing factors leading to a high HIV prevalence rate, according to the head of the monitoring and evaluation unit at the National Aids Control Council (NACC), Dr Patrick Mureithi.

“Educated people have a lifestyle that leaves them vulnerable to the transmission of HIV, unlike a poor, conservative, rural man or woman,” said Dr Mureithi.

Of the wealthy who are infected, the prevalence among women is 10.2 per cent against 3.9 per cent for men.

“Women, by their biological nature, are likely to be at a higher risk of contracting HIV than men. Women are recipients while for men, it is different,” said Dr Mureithi.

With a national average of 6.2 per cent of adults living with HIV/Aids, women account for 59.1 per cent of those infected, with educated, urban women more likely to contract the virus than their rural counterparts.

“Educated women are exposed; they are likely to have more than one sexual partner, they travel to more places, leaving them more vulnerable than poor women who live a more reserved life,” Dr Mureithi said.

However, despite HIV being more prevalent in women, a higher percentage of men have more than two sexual partners at 10 per cent compared to women at 1.2 per cent.

“As I said earlier, it is the biological nature of women that makes them more vulnerable,” said Dr Mureithi.

The report also notes that while HIV has historically been more prevalent among urban residents than rural ones, the gap is closing rapidly. Notably, men in rural areas are now more likely to be HIV-infected (at 4.5 per cent) than those in urban areas (at 3.7 per cent).

The report also found that the HIV prevalence among Protestant men is 4.3 per cent, 4.2 per cent among Catholics, and 3.3 per cent among Muslims.

“Religion is not a dominating factor in the study, but yes, it is still a fact. Though in the patterns you will notice Muslim women do not have a high prevalence [at 2.8 per cent],” said Dr Mureithi. Protestant women show a prevalence rate of 8.4 per cent while their Catholic counterparts have a rate of 8 per cent.

Geographic variability

Kenya has the third-largest population of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa and the highest national HIV prevalence of any country outside southern Africa, according to a 2008 UNAids report.

The report further notes that there is considerable geographic variability in the burden of HIV in Kenya. Provincial HIV prevalence ranges from a high of 13.9 per cent in Nyanza Province to a low of 0.9 per cent in North Eastern Province.

However, the study notes that Kenya is the global leader in scaling up voluntary medical circumcision for adult males which reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by at least 60 per cent. More than 230,000 medical circumcision procedures were carried out between November 2008 and December 2010.

Further Kenyans, on average, are less likely to have multiple sexual partners than they were in the late 1990s, and condom use has more than doubled.