Non-religious a high HIV risk lot

Thursday March 5 2009

By Arthur Okwemba

HIV prevalence is higher among non-religious Kenyans compared to faith practitioners, the first ever large study to interrogate the relationship between religion and the disease in the country has found out.

The government-sponsored Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey (KAIS) whose final findings will be released in a couple of weeks, indicates that prevalence levels among non-believers stands at 7.7 per cent against the national average of 7.1 per cent.

When preliminary findings of the survey were released in 2008, they did not include the new findings. The prevalence levels are even different among various faiths, with the highest being among Protestants and other Christians at 7.4 per cent. Roman Catholics follow at 7.1 per cent, Muslims at 4.7 per cent and 2.7 per cent among those ascribing to other religions.

The low prevalence in the latter case may be attributed to the small number of followers. The researchers say that while these statistics indicate that religious people have a slight advantage over non-religious ones, faith has not offered strong protection against the deadly virus.

And non-religious people are on the increase in the country. According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, one per cent of Kenyans were found to be non-religious. However, a poll carried out in 2007 showed four per cent of Kenyans to be non-religious.

Although the KAIS study does not delve into the reasons why non-religious people are the most hit by the epidemic, reasons given by Kenyans from various walks of life are varied. “Religion inculcates in an individual a sense of destiny, godliness and a strong shield against temptations,” pastor Vincent Ouya of the Tabernacle Church in Kibera said.

“The fear of God makes you dread doing certain things, which is not the case with non-religious people who have no spiritual being to account to for their actions,” adds Ruth Omukhango, a Daystar University student.

Mr Abdikadir Mohammed says that virginity for both girls and boys is highly guarded in Islam compared to other religions. Meanwhile, HIV prevalence among employed men was put at 6.2 per cent against 9.7 per cent for employed women. For the unemployed, the prevalence for men stood at 1.8 per cent against 6.0 for women.

Other studies have shown employed men to be well resourced and able to buy sex or sustain multiple sexual partners.

An AWC feature