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Minister maintains stand on HIV comments

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 1- Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi said on Tuesday that she had no apologies to make over her recent remarks about isolating persons living with HIV/AIDS in order to eliminate spread of the pandemic.

Ms Murugi said as far as she was concerned her remarks were not offensive.

“Once the Civil Society groups tell me which part is offensive, then I will decide whether I need to apologise,” the Minister said.

On Monday representatives of persons living with HIV/AIDS demanded that the Minister publicly apologises over her remarks terming them as ‘insensitive and uninformed’.

She said she was just offering suggestions about how Kenya could deal with the growing concern of HIV/AIDS with government statistics indicating that the prevalence rate was above seven percent.

Last week, the Minister who is also in charge of the HIV/AIDS docket said Kenya should probably take the same drastic measures as Cuba.

“In Cuba when the President Fidel Castro was still very strong, anybody who tested positive for HIV/AIDS was locked somewhere and once you went in, you did not come out,” she had told MPs attending a workshop on HIV/AIDS in Mombasa.

“I don’t know whether we should be that drastic or what we should do but sometimes I think may be that is what we should do so that those who are ill are locked in,” she said amid murmurs.

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On Tuesday, the Minister said she was happy her remarks had generated debate on HIV/AIDS.

“As long as we don’t talk about HIV/AIDS, it is going to consume us and it will not come to an end so can we keep the debate going but can it be positive debate,” she said.

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 in the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She was speaking during a courtesy call by UN under- Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos where they discussed the issue of refugees in the country.

Ms Amos noted that the Kenyan government faced challenges in handling refugees because sometimes the host communities also require aid.

“This is something that is difficult sometimes to prepare for because you have a large number of people who will sometimes cross the border because of a particular incident which occurs in their country,” she said.

The Minister on the other hand emphasised government’s commitment in assisting refugees in the country although the situation is complex especially with those from Somalia.

“It is really difficult to give the actual numbers of Somali refugees in the country because they come and go as need arises but at any given time we are prepared for approximately 80,000 refugees whom we can cater for,” the Minister said.

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