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Kenyan Minister sorry over AIDS remark

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 3 – Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi on Thursday apologised over controversial remarks she made last week about isolating persons living with HIV/AIDS to curb the spread of the virus.

Ms Murugi however defended the statement she made at a HIV/AIDS meeting for lawmakers in Mombasa saying her statement was merely to provide examples of what other countries had done to control the spread of the virus and provoke leaders "to start thinking outside the box."

"If it has offended anybody, I apologise," she told journalists.

"And I want to assure all Kenyans who have been on ARV\’s (antiretroviral treatment) that we have no policy of arresting or isolating anybody. Please go to your clinics and if you need me to come and protect you, I am willing because it is not my idea to isolate you," she said.

She blamed the media for "misrepresenting" her statement saying it was blown out of context and vowed to continue being vocal on matters relating to HIV/AIDS.

"The whole clip was not captured because I went on to explain where I was coming from and what I was saying," the Minister said.

"I shall continue to support (the idea) that we look at other countries\’ approaches and learn from them in order to rid Kenya of HIV," she added.

On Tuesday the Minister had said that she would not apologise because she didn\’t find her remarks offensive.

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"I raised the issue of Cuba in order to foster discussion and debate and it was never intended to imply that Kenya should move to a strategy of incarceration because it would even be contrary to many human rights conventions that Kenya has signed," she stated.

First lady Lucy Kibaki on Wednesday came out strongly to criticise the comments.

Ms Murugi\’s apology was accepted by representatives of various organisations working in the field of HIV/AIDS including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

"We are telling our members now that the stand of the government is as it was before, that they will protect the rights of everybody," said Davis Njuguna, Chairman National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK).

Mr Njuguna called off a planned demonstration against the Minister that was scheduled to take place next week if she didn\’t apologise.

Ms Fatuma Ibrahim, a KNCHR Commissioner said, "One other thing we want to request the Minister is to monitor the situation of what her statement has generated particularly to the people who are infected and families who are affected."

"We don\’t want to see discrimination of people on any account," Ms Ibrahim added.

UNAIDS Country Coordinator Maya Harper said countries like Rwanda which had seen tremendous success in lowering the rates of infection by creating a conducive environment where people access testing, care and treatment services.

"An enabling environment is not just about the laws and policies of government, it gets to the social fabrics of communities, inequalities, women\’s rights and that\’s not just done by the government, it\’s about changing the norms of societies so that people can live with dignity and without fear of stigma and discrimination," she said.
The Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey showed that the HIV prevalence rate was above seven percent.

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Only 4.5 million Kenyans have gone for HIV/AIDS testing.

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