, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 1 – The government has assured gays and lesbians that they will continue to receive HIV/AIDS services without discrimination.
Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi said on Wednesday that every Kenyan is entitled to receive care, treatment and support for HIV/AIDS irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Experts had expressed fears that recent remarks by Prime Minister Raila Odinga that homosexuals should be arrested would impact negatively on the fight against the disease.
"We need to address their issues, we need to talk; we need to know them. Our cultures have changed for the worst – men are having sex with men and they are infecting women and other men, we need to address that issue. If we are open, if we are candid and if we don\’t hide our heads like the ostrich, we shall overcome," she said.
The Minister was speaking during celebrations to mark World Aids Day whose theme is \’Universal Access and Human Rights.
She also encouraged Kenyans to know their HIV status to curb the spread of the virus.
"At least 4.5 million Kenyans have received voluntary HIV counselling and testing and are aware of their status. The population of Kenya is 38 million, where are the other 34 million and why don\’t they know their status? She posed.
"It is time that everybody knew their status."
The Minister said that the response to the pandemic had been ongoing for too long and it was time to put in place aggressive measures to eliminate the virus.
"We have an enemy and when we have an enemy we have to go to war. One of the reasons we are not winning this war is because we don\’t want to face the truth, we don\’t want to say who our enemy is and what we can do to win the war," she said.
Global Coordinator of the US President\’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief, PEPFAR Ambassador Eric Goosby said in a teleconference that homosexuals should be allowed to access prevention interventions and treatment of HIV without fear.
"The strategies that have been most effective are those that include embracing the gay and lesbian community, creating a safe space where they can get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases without fear of incarceration," he said.
Policy and Research Director at Liverpool VCT, Dr Wanjiru Mukoma told Capital News that the PM\’s remarks would affect the uptake of services by the gay and lesbian community which would negatively impact on the response to HIV/AIDS.
"It is inevitable that some of them will be afraid to come and seek services in light of those remarks because they are afraid of the repercussions. As service providers, the most we can do is to reassure the MSM (men who have sex with men) that if they come for services we shall not discriminate them based on their sexual orientation or preference," she said.
Statistics indicate that homosexuals contribute to 15 percent of all new HIV infections in Kenya.
Meanwhile, the government has been called upon to target people above the age of 50 in its HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.
HelpAge International HIV and AIDS Portfolio Manager Wamuyu Manyara said the focus on prevention has been more on the younger people which had left the older generation with little information.
"A lot of times they (older people) are under the impression that either they are not at risk of HIV infection and therefore do not feel the need to go for a test and yet they are having sexual relationships and at the same time they are sometimes having multiple partners," Ms Manyara told Capital News.
She said that there was need to also train counsellors on the language and approach they should use when dealing with older people.
"The health facility personnel need to be sensitive towards older people and understand that there may also be other conditions that they are suffering from and provide more holistic services so that you are looking at them as a whole person and HIV is one of the conditions that they could be having," she explained.
Regular data collection by government agencies on HIV/AIDS gives statistics of people between the ages 15-49 years.