Murugi under fire over tactless comments

January 31, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 31 – A network of persons living with HIV/AIDS wants Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi to publicly apologise over her remarks that persons living with HIV/AIDS should be secluded.

National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, NEPHAK National Coordinator Nelson Otuoma on Monday termed the minister’s remarks as “insensitive and ill-informed.”

"The greatest consequence we have from her statement is that it has fuelled fear and anxiety and today we have evidence that there are people who have not even left their houses fearing that what the minister said is official and they may get arrested," Mr Otuoma said.

"By the time we reach those people to clarify that she was just talking… the damage will have been done," he added.

He also pointed out that the remarks would interfere with HIV/AIDS counselling and testing where tremendous gains had been made.

"If people are told that when they test positive to HIV they will be isolated, no one will want to test and this will be a major challenge," Mr Otuoma said.

He also accused the minister of frustrating efforts to operationalise the HIV/AIDS tribunal which was set up in 2009 to handle legal issues relating to the scourge including discrimination and confidentiality.

Kenya Network of HIV Positive Teachers Coordinator Jemimah Nindo said the statement could seriously reverse the gains made in HIV/AIDS.

"We are grappling with learners who are HIV positive, what are we telling them?" she posed.

Kenya Network of Women with AIDS Executive Director Asunta Wagura termed the remarks regrettable especially because the minister was in charge of the HIV/AIDS docket.

"It\’s even a pity that the National Aids Control Council falls under her docket. I would want to assume this was a careless statement and therefore we call on her to give her position and tell the nation whether she meant it," Ms Wagura stated.

They threatened to hold a demonstration beginning with Nyeri Municipality, the constituency the minister represents if she didn\’t apologise.

"There are many people living with HIV in her constituency. We will then appeal to the President to remove her from office," NEPHAK chairperson Davis Njuguna said.

According to latest government statistics, HIV prevalence rate in the country is at 7.8 percent.

This is not the first time the Minister has attracted public uproar. Last year, she called on the government to recognise the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender community so that they could be included in the HIV/AIDS programmes, a statement that was sharply criticised by some quarters.

However human rights bodies defended her saying it was time Kenyans accepted this population which is classified as high risk could not be ignored.

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