Glimmer of LGBT hope in Kenya’s anti-AIDS fight

Kisumu location in Kenya. (Map courtesy of Google Maps)

Kisumu location in Kenya. (Map courtesy of Google Maps)

“LGBT people find it hard, almost impossible to access medical services,” says one activist serving Kenya’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. “The situation is very grave. No one seems to care about preserving the lives of LGBT people in Kenya.”

But several anti-AIDS initiatives in Kenya is trying to disprove that depressing conclusion. One new effort is in northwestern Kenya,  NPR reports:

Mutisiya Leonard, who runs an HIV prevention, treatment and support program for men who have sex with men in northwestern Kenya, says homosexuality is so stigmatized in Africa that many men don’t want to refer to themselves as gay. This makes reaching them with safe-sex messages and HIV-prevention campaigns difficult. These men are reluctant to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases, he says, and they don’t want to get tested for HIV.

In order to address HIV in any community, health workers need to be able to get people to talk frankly and honestly about their sex lives. But Leonard says gay men in Kenya face stigma, discrimination, violence and even jail if they come out of the closet. “The fear of the law, the fear of arrest makes it difficult for people to be open about it,” he says.

Leonard runs the small health center called the Kisumu Initiative for Positive Empowerment, or KIPE, where a small staff provides AIDS education, HIV screening and counseling, along with church services, martial-arts training and karaoke nights.

Under Kenyan law, male homosexual activity is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Such laws brand LGBT people as criminals, which makes them reluctant to be open about their sexuality and to seek medical care, activists say. The secretive nature of their relationships creates an environment where HIV can flourish, NPR says:

Leonard says many men hide in marriages and cover up their secret lives with girlfriends.

“When they’re mobile, they could have a Nairobi boyfriend and a Mombasa boyfriend and a Kisumu boyfriend and girlfriends in each of those towns to cover it up,” he says. “So multiple concurrent partnerships increase their risk and vulnerability.”

Similar efforts elsewhere in Kenya include Nairobi-based Health Options for Young Men, in which peer educators will provide HIV prevention and treatment to male sex workers.

The estimated overall HIV infection rate in Kenya is 6.3 percent, according to the United Nations AIDS Report of 2010. Among men who have sex with men in Kenya, the rate is estimated to be much higher:

Read the full article from NPR:  “Kenya’s HIV Challenge: Easing Stigma For Gay Men.”

7 thoughts on “Glimmer of LGBT hope in Kenya’s anti-AIDS fight

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