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The Kibera slum community does not appear on tourist maps or guides for East Africa, even though it is less than 15 minutes from the center of Nairobi, Kenya. As one of several unrecognized slum settlements in Nairobi, Kibera is almost invisible to outsiders. About 400,000 Kenyans live in close quarters amid open sewers and garbage-grazing goats that roam the community's dirt alleyways. Few of the thousands of shanty homes, mostly made of mud bricks, have electricity or easy access to drinking water. Some Kenyans live and work within the slum, which has its own breweries as well as bars and brothels, streets for retailers, and a small bone-carving factory.

The Salvation Army's Kibera compound lies not 100 yards from the slum's beer brewery. The odors of fermenting grain float overhead as Salvationist Captain Isaac Iballa and his wife Rose assemble a group of volunteers on a sunny Thursday morning. The volunteers are all members of the Anti-HIV/AIDS Self-Help Group. AIDS has brought death early and often into the lives of innumerable families in Kibera.

International health experts warn that the global AIDS epidemic is centered in eastern and southern Africa and that the 278 million people in 34 countries are at grave risk of infection and death. Since a majority of people in this region of Africa are Christian, health officials are cultivating new relationships with churches.

Public health officials are increasingly desperate to find effective ways of slowing new HIV infections. Health leaders openly recognize that the arrival of a safe and effective AIDS vaccine is in the distant future. Also, state-of-the-art AIDS drug therapy is rarely available for complicated political and economic reasons. Finally, the healthcare system ...

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In the Magazine

February 7, 2000

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