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Widow inheritance contributing to high HIV prevalence in Kisumu County

By Okun Oliech | February 6th 2017
Mercy Awino hails from Seme Sub County in Kisumu County. She didn't know what HIV was when her unfaithful husband died four years ago nor did she suspect she might have been infected.

What she knew was her custom required her to be inherited by her dead husband's brother. This would ensure her children and herself are well-taken care off.

“I wasn’t ready to become the wife of another man, but I had little choice. My in-laws would have sent me packing if I had refused to be inherited by my dead husband’s brother, so I had to do what they said.” Mercy told me.

After she was inherited by her brother-in-law, they had unprotected sex as expected in order to remove the impurity ascribed to her after her husband's death.

 “I was not in a position to negotiate whether or not to use protection. I wasn’t ready to have another child,” She said.

Not long mercy became pregnant and gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. But the infant died later on.

Mercy tested positive soon afterward and before she could get her brother-in-law to get tested, he abandoned her and went back to his previous wives. Rumour has it that he is infected too.

“I am worried because he might be infected and could end up infecting his other wives and other women in his sexual network,” Mercy Said.

In seme sub-county, three out every ten women are widows who have been inherited.

Widows who are inherited for the purpose of fulfilling cultural obligation have a higher prevalence of HIV than those who remain un-inherited or are inherited for the purpose of companionship.

According to the Kenya HIV Estimates 2015, HIV prevalence in Kisumu is 3.4 times higher than the national prevalence at 19.9%. The HIV prevalence among women in the county is higher (21.2%) than that of men (18.3%) indicating that women are more vulnerable to HIV infection than men in the County.

Kisumu County contributed to 9.5% of the total number of people living with HIV in Kenya and is ranked the third highest nationally.

By the end of 2015, a total of 144,303 people were living with HIV in the County with 22% of them being young people aged between 15-24 years and 6% being children under the age of 15 years.

Approximately 501 children and 2,518 adults died from AIDS-related conditions in 2015.

Widow inheritance is one of the main factors contributing to the high HIV prevalence in Kisumu county and Nyanza region as a whole.

Civil education, media campaigns and working closely with elders who are the custodians of these customs is key in reducing the spread of HIV in the region and to ending wife inheritance.

 Women have a right to choose who to marry and who to have kids with. Wife inheritance is a violation of women’s right and should be stopped.
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