Luo Tribes, Widow Cleansing, and HIV/AIDS: A Proposal for Theological and Philosophical Dimensions to a Kenyan Bioethics of Care for HIV/AIDS Patients Open Access

Jacobs, Shaunesse Arielle (2016)

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For the past several decades, the spread of HIV/AIDS has been on the rise throughout the world, with most victims residing in Africa. The disease is the number four killer globally and the number one killer in Kenya, occasionally being trumped by malaria. Although treatments have expanded and testing has become more prominent since 1984, awareness and access to healthcare services is far lower than global statistics due to stigmatization and cultural rituals. Many of these cultural rituals are foundational to ethnic identities, but ministry demands continue to be made that these rituals are altered or eliminated in an effort to reduce transmission and mortality rates. The Luo comprise approximately fifteen percent of the Kenyan population and have been the most adamant in maintaining traditional rituals with a specific focus on widow cleansing. Widow cleansing is a sexual ritual that requires widowed women to engage in unprotected sex with a male relative of her deceased husband to cleanse herself and community of any negative spirits that may be left behind by the deceased. Some widows are then inherited by other men. Because of these practices, young women comprise more cases of HIV/AIDS than men, especially in rural areas. In order to bring about lower transmission and mortality rates, a conception of healthcare must be introduced that seriously takes into consideration the cultural realities of Luo communities. Western approaches to public health and medicine can serve as a positive framework for a Kenyan bioethical approach to HIV/AIDS among the Luo and other ethnic groups, but the western framework must be compatible with Kenyan cultural dynamics and sociopolitical realities. This thesis examines the Luo practice of widow cleansing and its role in the transmission of HIV/AIDS due to the strong interconnectivity between religiosity, tribal politics, and stigma surrounding positive test results. These controversies will then engage theology, public health, and biomedical ethics in conversation to propose a characteristically Kenyan bioethical approach that addresses Luo cultural dynamics beyond the ritual and international responsibility to reduce the transmission and contraction of HIV/AIDS among the Luo.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction 1

Chapter 2: Luo Culture and Widow Cleansing 17

Chapter 3: Analytical Criticisms of Luo Sexual Practices 39

Chapter 4: A Conceptual Turn to a Kenyan Ethno-ethics 59

Conclusion and Recommendations 81

References 84

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