by John Owuor
According to a country report presented to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS 2008), Kenya had halved adult HIV prevalence from about 10% in 1997/1998 to about 5% by end of 2006. The decline has been attributed to greater awareness, behaviour change and higher mortality rates, among other factors.
However, the Kenyan government’s data show that the region in which Kisumu is located has an overall HIV prevalence range of between 17 and 28%. A multicentre study in 2001 found an HIV prevalence rate amongst men in the city of around 20%, and 30% for women. Kisumu’s young women (15 to 19 years old) had a prevalence rate of about 20%, compared to about 4% among men of the same age group. According to Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council, young women are five times more likely to contract HIV than men of their age group.
Investigators therefore wished to gain a better understanding of the HIV risk behaviours of young people in this region. This involved an examination of ‘disco matanga’ (disco funerals) and their association with high-risk behaviour .
Because the phenomenon has not been described in existing literature, the researchers wanted to test the hypothesis that high AIDS mortality in Kisumu has led to many funerals which, in turn, because of their attendant risky sexual behaviours, could be causing an increase in HIV prevalence in young women.
The investigators used in-depth interviews to explore the socio-cultural dynamics of sexuality of young people in the city. They recruited 75 young women and 75 young men (aged 15 to 20 years) for the in-depth interviews.
The researchers conducted observational research at locations where young people congregated, such as video halls, shopping malls and funerals. Data collected during observations included activities taking place, sociodemographics of participants and non-verbal behaviours. The study observed six disco funerals amongst the forty-eight observations.
The investigators found that disco funerals were a common occurrence in the study areas and that young people regarded them as a cheap form of entertainment, as well as an opportunity to meet partners for sexual intercourse.
Furthermore, the investigators noted that there was often an intense atmosphere at these events; songs played at them often had overt sexual references and dancing was highly sexualised. Little parental supervision was evident, and the investigators observed that the events were being used as occasions to seek sex.
Boys often refused to use condoms, providing excuses such as a lack of time or not knowing how to use them.
There was also evidence of sexual coercion, with girls and young women occasionally forced to have sex or even gang raped. Transactional sex was also in evidence. Some of the boys gave the girls money or bought ‘gifts’ such as drinks or chips in exchange for sex. DJs also auctioned dances with girls. The opportunity for the ‘highest bidder’ to have the girl to themselves led to sexual activity, whether consensual or otherwise.
Lastly, the researchers found that disco funerals provided opportunity for alcohol and drug abuse by the youth. This led to violence, sexual coercion and lack of self control –all of which increased the risk of HIV incidence.
Although the investigators believe that their study has helped to explore a previously unstudied aspect of HIV risk, they note that the sample size was small and caution that the results may not be capable of being generalised to other settings.
Nevertheless, they conclude that disco funerals might be one risk factor for the high HIV prevalence among young people in Kisumu. They recommended a call for interventions to reduce the HIV risk behaviours revealed by their study and for further research to see if their findings can be applied to other settings.