The strong anti-condom stance of religious leaders in northern Kenya means few people there are using them and traders are refusing to stock them, which AIDS activists warn is jeopardising the fight against the pandemic.
"I will never sell condoms in my shop; it is like promoting adultery and operating a brothel," Sharrif Mohamed, who owns a shop in Isiolo, Eastern Province, told IRIN/PlusNews.
Most traders in the mainly Muslim northeastern part of the country have refused to stock condoms, which are usually only available at government health centres.
Zamzam, a single mother of three in Garissa, a town North Eastern Province, dismissed condoms as "a thing for the prostitutes", saying, "I use my brain and intelligence when I want to sleep with a man, and can tell who is sick [with HIV/AIDS]; I am not a prostitute to use it." This level of ignorance is common across the region, where literacy levels are the lowest in the country.
"The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a curse and punishment because people have engaged in immoral acts and offended Allah [God]," Maalim Hussein Mohamud, a teacher at a 'madrassa', or Islamic school, in Mandera, near the Somali border, told IRIN/PlusNews. "They have to repent, observe religious teaching and not use condoms."
Mohamud said the only way to prevent the viral infection was to observe religious teachings, abstain from 'illegal' sexual acts and avoid the use of condoms.
"Our position is very clear: we shall never support the use of condoms; Muslims must shun acts that will endanger their lives. To be safe [from HIV], youths must pray five times daily, fast, and refrain from looking at women; extramarital affairs must be avoided and women must dress decently," he insisted.
Noor sheikh, who works at the government's HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection control programme in North Eastern Province, said stiff opposition to the use of condoms was proving to be a hindrance to HIV prevention. "Our region has the lowest use of condoms in the country," he said. "Of course it is a factor responsible for many cases of infections."
Some activists have complained that the government has not done enough to educate the local population about condom use, particularly in rural areas, and it was also often very difficult to obtain condoms.
"Many youths are informed about the use of condoms, but have said they are not available in remote parts of the region," said Margaret Leshore, of the Samburu Women's Empowerment Programme, a non-governmental organisation advocating women's rights.
The condom is one of the main HIV prevention strategies employed by the government, and free condoms are available at most health centres around the country.
Although northern Kenya has some of the country's lowest prevalence rates, concerns have been raised about low awareness of the pandemic and the region's continued resistance to condom use.