Kenya, like most countries, is currently experiencing a very brutal and unforgiving second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The trend of the new infections is worrying and the government is likely to put in place more stringent measures than before to help curb the spread of the virus. This means that many young students may remain locked at home. Young people by nature are outgoing and have an appetite for adventure and new experiences beyond the confines of their home environment. Further lockdown therefore would have adverse effects on them socially, spiritually and mentally.
Talking to a group of girls and boys (13-19 year olds) during a survey organized by Africa Jesuits Aids Network, it is apparent that the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a huge toll on the lives of the youth (particularly those living in low income areas such as slums) including broken families, loss of jobs for breadwinners, sexual abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence, transactional sex among teenage girls, and difficulty accessing health services for other health conditions besides COVID-19. The latter has gravely affected the youth who are living with the HIV virus. Most health facilities in slum areas either consciously or unconsciously switched their attention to issues regarding the COVID-19, completely ignoring the plight of young persons living with the HIV virus. Some closed their doors because of fear of their staff getting infected with the COVID-19 virus.
As we observe World AIDS Day on December 1st, it is important to remember that in Kenya, 6% of the population is infected with HIV, with over 1.5 million people living with the virus. Rates of infection and death have slowed with the accessibility of antiretroviral drugs, which the government provides at no cost, but there are still approximately 36,000 deaths per year from HIV/AIDS. Kenya has over 600,000 children who have been orphaned by AIDS. Most notable is that the rate of HIV infections, hitherto, remains high among adolescents in countries south of the Sahara where 74% of new HIV infections are among adolescent girls and young women, and Kenya is no exception. Current statistics indicate that teenage pregnancies have risen between the time schools and colleges were closed in March 2020 and the time of partial reopening of learning institutions in early October. With this in mind, it also means that the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections have increased.
In St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, the structures in place, to a good extent, are helping us to mitigate the challenges faced by our students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Social and Health Departments ensure that the students on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) are assisted to access the medications. The school, through the support from friends and well wishers, is also reaching out to the students and their families through provision of food and other necessities. This year’s World Aids Day theme summarizes it all: Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility. During a pandemic such this, no one is safe until everyone is safe. If we are to succeed in this battle, leaving young people behind is not an option. In our endeavor to journey with the youth during and after this pandemic, we feel very encouraged by the words of renowned Indian Social Reformer, Kailash Satyarthi: The power of the youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the power, the idealism, the enthusiasm and the courage of young people. We remain committed to making a difference (small or big) in the lives of young persons.
Johnfisher M. Ondigo
Mr. Ondigo is a teacher at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School and a facilitator at the African Jesuit AIDS Network’s HIV and AIDS Prevention Program for the Youth (AHAPPY)