What You Need to Know About the Masai Village HIV:AIDS CrisisHIV/AIDS affects the majority of African countries. Masai villages are located in Kenya, where approximately one in five adults is currently infected with HIV/AIDS. The Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis continues to affect many, and, as a result, humanitarian organizations are working to alleviate the increasingly high infection rates.

What Does the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis Look like?

HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasingly high and treatment rates are increasingly low. Of the affected 38 African countries, Kenya, the home of Masai villages, is the fifth most affected country in the world. Masai culture is greatly patriarchal, traditional and resistant toward common health practices. Marriage practices, a fundamental aspect of the Masai culture, gravely impact the Masai village members’ health. Prior to marital relationships, most girls will have sexual relations with young warriors and such relations will continue after the girls are properly married. Immediately after reaching puberty, girls are married to older men with the goal of preventing childbirth out of wedlock.

Even after marriage, most women fear seeking testing or treatment, as husbands will abandon their wives if they are infected with HIV/AIDS. Because men provide financial support, housing and food, women, understandably, do not seek appropriate treatment.

In Kenya, more than 30% of newborns are infected with HIV/AIDS and approximately half of those children die before they are 2 years old. The alarmingly high death rate is largely due to the fact that both the babies and their mothers do not seek proper diagnoses, let alone treatment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found that since the onset of the global HIV/AIDS crisis in 1981, 17 million children lost at least one parent from HIV/AIDS. Of those 17 million children, 91% live in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya.

Obstacles in Alleviating HIV/AIDS Rates

According to Doctors Without Borders, a fundamental obstacle posed by the Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis is the unavailability of health clinics. Because Masai villages are independent of the country’s government rule, little progress can be made from African or Kenyan government forces. Masai villages are primarily controlled by a Laibon, a de facto leader of the village, who makes decisions regarding marriages, cattle, spiritual practices and health. Laibons primarily practice alternative medicine, leaving the communities with no access to HIV/AIDS treatment.

Even if there is a clinic close by, they are unlikely to have treatment. In addition to stigmas around testing, clinics do not have the antiretroviral treatments that are available in the United States. In implementing antiretroviral treatments within the United States, mortality rates have been reduced by more than 80%. But, such treatments can cost more than $9,000, which Masai village members and clinics cannot afford. Furthermore, there are numerous legal barriers preventing the production and importation of antiretroviral treatment to Kenya, specifically the rural areas of the Masai villages.

Progress for the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis

The Masai village HIV/AIDS crisis has extreme implications. HIV/AIDS most commonly affects the younger, more sexually-active members of the village. Because the younger population is more physically able to partake in laborious work, the strenuous tasks that keep the villages operating cannot be completed if they are sick. Therefore, high infection rates lead to a decrease in social contribution. Without the help of younger Masai members, the villages become vulnerable to instability. For both health reasons and the function of their villages, Masai members will not be able to survive if Kenya’s infection rate remains above 4%.

Because limited progress can be made from within the Masai villages, many global aid organizations such as Adapt-A-Doctor and Kenya AIDS Intervention are paying physicians to practice in struggling countries. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is increasing their time in hotspot countries, such as Kenya, where they provide free counseling and testing to Masai village members.

Through the efforts of external organizations and health associations, awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Masai villages is increasing. The help of such organizations in collaboration with Masai villages will lead its members to live healthier, safer and longer lives.

– Maya Sulkin

Photo: Flickr

HIVAIDS in Kenya
In 2016, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) calculated that there are approximately 120,000 children living with HIV in Kenya. Even more shocking is that around 840,000 children between ages 0-17 were orphaned due to AIDS. Amidst this pandemic, the Children of God Relief Institute (COGRI) provides a glimmer of hope for orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya.


COGRI is a nonprofit organization that provides care for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) who are infected with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS; this group also aids the elderly and families impacted by this pandemic.

USAID supports this organization through funding received from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, and helps it deliver quality and impactful HIV care. This organization operates through four different programs based around some of Nairobi’s poorest settlements.

The first program is called Lea Toto and its purpose is to decrease the risk of HIV transmission through the use of home-based care packages and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. The Nyumbani Home is where children are given outstanding medical, nutritional and academic care with the hopes of becoming graduates and members of Kenyan society.

The organization’s third program, the Nyumbani Village, is a bio-friendly and self-sustaining community that cares for the young and old who have lost family members as a result of the pandemic. And finally, the Nyumbani Lab was opened in 2011 and is an internationally accredited laboratory working to find effective treatments and diagnostics for people with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

A Holistic Approach to HIV/AIDS

Part of COGRI’s success is due to its holistic approach to the problem. The OVC receive the most support and care including treatment, counseling and testing, education, nutrition, shelter, child protection, case management, psychosocial support and household economic strengthening. Caregivers and communities receive secondary support as these programs impact children and their future income levels.

Healthcare is a huge focus of this organization. To support these children, COGRI provides access to medical care and supplies antiretroviral drugs. Another important part of treatment and protection includes providing sufficient amounts of food and combating malnutrition.

Evidence shows that higher rates of malnutrition contribute to greater deaths in people with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, and this occurrence has caused food security to become a bigger focus within the organization. They would like to guarantee age-appropriate feeding, infant, young child and elderly nutrition and food security for all clients and patients. Beyond physical health, the organization provides services to help with grief and the challenges presented by HIV. 

Glimmers of Hope

The holistic approach combined with hope and advocacy make COGRI an effective organization. According to USAID, staff are passionate about advocating for children’s medical treatment and hope that in the future, no children in Kenya will get HIV in utero or during breastfeeding. Additionally, 73 percent of 377 children receiving HIV treatment at one of COGRI’s facilities achieved viral suppression due to correctly following a treatment regimen. This is relevant as Kenya’s overall viral suppression rate in children is only 65 percent.

USAID tells the story of a young man taken to Lea Toto who at age 12 was in poor health from untreated HIV. He received treatment immediately, and that combined with psychosocial support, helped him become a confident and healthier man. He is now 23 with a certificate in graphic and web design and has his own shoe business.

Examples like these show how COGRI’s holistic and passionate approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is changing the lives of children in Kenya and providing hope for a healthy future. 

– Alexandra Eppenauer

Photo: Flickr