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'Mitumba’ traders linked to rising HIV spread

By Gatonye Gathura | Published Mon, January 29th 2018 at 09:30, Updated January 29th 2018 at 15:01 GMT +3
Traders go about their business at Kibuye market in Kisumu county in a file photo. A new study has shown ‘mitumba’ dealers have wide networks and multiple partners [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Highly mobile women traders have been identified as the new source of HIV infections in Kenya and the East African region.

These migrating traders, a new study shows, who live a risky lifestyle including long absence away from home, are likely to have multiple partners and with high rates of HIV infections.

Mainly involved in second-hand clothes business, the traders have established complex networks spanning from the source at the Port of Mombasa to Nairobi, all major towns in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the rest of the region.

A study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the University of California, US, published on January 11, 2018, says these networks are now a major factor in the spread of HIV.

To understand how the networks operate, the researchers using Global Positioning System (GPS) had used Kibuye Market in Kisumu as a take-off point.

Kibuye Market is one of the largest outdoor markets in Eastern Africa, attracting predominantly female vendors from across Uganda, Tanzania, and from the larger western Kenya.

“This market provides a temporary space to sample migrant women at high risk of HIV transmission who would otherwise be difficult to reach,” says the study in the journal Plos One.

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HIV prevalence among the female market traders, the study says, was 25.6 per cent, compared to 15.1 per cent for Kisumu town and 6.9 per cent nationally among women of reproductive age.

The current study, the authors explain, is part of a wider project to understand how the increasing number of women in informal trade is impacting on HIV.

The experts now want HIV prevention and treatment interventions targeting these highly mobile women traders be put in place urgently. []

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