NAIROBI – Stanley Ngara, also known as the King of Condoms, meanders through the muddy alleys of the Kenyan suburb of Kibera holding onto a box of contraceptives.
Some 15 million have died as a result of HIV-related diseases across the African continent.
“Kenya was bad, the stigma was real.
“We buried people with nylon paper.
“In African culture, you must see the body, you must have a night with the body, it was really stigmatizing,” Ngara reminisced as he thought back to the 1980s when knowledge of the disease was rudimentary.
Today the preacher of safe sex has one mission alone: to protect communities from HIV and aids.
“So many people committed suicide.
“So many people infected others saying that ‘I am not going to die alone.’
“There was a lot of revenge. The retrovirals were costing like 6000 Kenyan shillings and so many people couldn’t afford them.
“It was painful it was terrible,” Ngara, who against all odds and with the help of the LVCT Health NGO managed to turn his pain into his lifelong mission, told Efe.
Ngara has been spreading his message with seven colleagues for 20 years now.
Sporting a red military-style uniform with gold buttons and seams and a cap with his self-appointed title, Ngara travels through the most impoverished neighborhoods of Nairobi, its universities, bars and the streets frequented by sex workers to hand out free condoms and advice on how to remain healthy whilst enjoying an active sex life.
Who has extramarital sex? The King bellows as he potters into the hidden bars of Laini Saba, one of the 13 locations where the huge informal settlement of Kibera is divided and where hundreds of thousands of people live.
Almost everyone in the joint – many already drunk even though it is only noon – raise heavy arms.
But few keep them up when Ngara asks who uses condoms.
At least 1.6 million people in Kenya live with HIV.
In 2018 alone, 46,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in the country and 25,000 people died as a result of AIDS-related diseases, according to UNAIDS.
Worldwide, more than 37 million people live with HIV, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Africa, one in 25 adults has the virus.
People do not like the oil that condoms carry, and with them, you can get Aids, they do not work, local whispers.
Amid the murmurs of the bar’s customers, Ngara demonstrates how to use a female condom using a plastic penis and vagina.
Young African women are one of the most affected groups.
In East and South Africa, 79 percent of new HIV carriers are girls aged 10 to 19, according to UNAIDS.
In 2017, more than 90 percent of Aids-related deaths in adolescents worldwide were in sub-Saharan Africa.
“18 -24 year-olds are dropping the use of condoms,” Ngara says after handing out some 14,000 condoms in bars and other parts of Kibera.
“You still have young people getting infected every day, there is a conflict of information that is bringing up new HIV infections, that is why we want to normalize, we want to make it very simple to talk about sex and the use of condoms,” the activist said.
In places like Kibera, one in four teenagers (15 -19 years old) has had an unwanted pregnancy, according to the NGO Witness.
This has a knock-on effect on education with a 30 percent dropout rate.
Girls who get pregnant transmit the virus to their children.
More than 50,000 babies are born with HIV every year in Kenya.
Rapes are common, although rates have dropped, health worker Simon Mukuha told Efe.
According to the health worker who is from Kibera, when men drink too much they often engage in risky sex.
“I tell people, sex it’s about feelings, it’s about emotions, and HIV and pregnancies are facts,” Ngara continued.
“If you have sex with somebody and you don’t use condoms and that person is (HIV) positive, fact, you’ll get HIV.
“But feelings and attractions you can’t control them, but you can put condoms in between that.”
The Kenyan government gives Ngara tens of thousands of condoms free of charge which he distributes following a 3D philosophy: Discuss-Demonstrate-Distribute.
For Ngara every day is HIV awareness day.
“We need a lot of kings and queens and princes of condoms.
“We can’t have enough for 47 million people,” he concluded.