Linguistic challenges in the fight again HIV and AIDS: an analysisi of Doctor-Patient discourse in Kenyan health centres

  • Serah W. Waitiki Moi University


The language question has received little attention in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Kenya, yet language has a very fundamental role to play if progress is to be made in responding to this pandemic. The language barrier can completely hinder progress especially in Doctor-patient communication whereby a patient suffering from HIV or AIDS, or indeed any other disease, cannot communicate directly to the doctor in the language he is most competent in. This problem is most prevalent in multilingual nations like Kenya, where knowledge of either the national or official language is the preserve of an educated minority. In linguistically heterogeneous areas, doctors or clinical officers normally require the services of a nurse or close family member for interpretation. This in itself denies the patient the confidentiality they require and may lead to miscommunication or misrepresentation of the ideal picture to either the doctor or the patient. It may also encourage the culture of silence since the patient may shy away from revealing certain personal details related to their condition in the presence of a third party. This has implications for the efficacy of the entire communication process and limits or prevents access to effective treatment for health issues.

This paper looks at doctor-patient discourse in some selected health centres in Kenya with a main focus on some of the problems encountered by patients in communicating to doctors and how doctors deal with the language barrier problem in the treatment of HIV and AIDS. It aims at highlighting how linguistic barriers can slow down the efforts made in responding to this global pandemic and makes suggestions on how to manage doctor-patient discourses in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual setting for efficient communication, especially in the prevention, care and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

 Key words: HIV, AIDS, language, patients

Author Biography

Serah W. Waitiki, Moi University

Dr. Serah Waitiki, Ph.D in Linguistics from Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany. Currently a linguistics  lecturer at Moi University, Kenya. Researcher and language consultant with major interest in issues of language variation and language change.   Also a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-1279