Kenya’s novel plan to reach out to gay men across the country and educate them about the risks of HIV has one giant obstacle: Being gay in Kenya is illegal. So why are Kenya’s gay rights leaders rallying around the project?
Because it will save lives.
When the Kenyan National Aids Strategic Plan was announced last year, its effort to focus in on men who have sex with men was commended. With a population that’s 6 percent HIV-positive, any initiative to lower that rate, and teach the populace about safe sex, the importance of testing, and available treatments should be lauded. But part of the KAASP calls for Kenya’s gay population to come forward, voluntarily, to be counted by the government. That many of these very people feel wary doing so is warranted; Kenya assigns 14-year prison sentences for homosexuality.
And yet, with assurances that officials won’t use the program as a gay witch hunt, gay rights leaders and AIDS activists on the ground in Kenya are supporting the program.
The Kenyan National Aids Strategic Plan (KNASP), among other things, aims to develop specific strategies to address HIV prevention to vulnerable groups such as couples with different HIV and Aids statuses, Commercial sex workers, orphans and vulnerable children, migrant workers, military and police, survivors of rape, drug injecting users and men who have sex with men.
Activists say this plan will grant the gay community greater access to prevention information and commodities from NACC and other government bodies, services that they struggled to benefit from before.
“We are looking forward to calling on NACC to begin to implement the plan”, said David Kuria of Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. Speaking at the launch of the KNSP at the KICC Amphitheatre in Nairobi, Odinga reportedly said the country is “taking AIDS response to the next level.”
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, “I believe the Plan is taking the right approach to those most at risk. It emphasises a strategy of combination prevention, and ensuring [that] access to services cuts across all four Pillars of the Plan.” Sidibe added, “Although attempts to decriminalize sex work, homosexuality and drug use in Kenya meet with popular resistance, this Plan has evidence-based strategies to systematically remove constraints to reducing HIV transmission among groups in conflict with the law.”
Still missing from this conversation, however, are explicit details how government records will be kept about gay men there, and how those records won’t make their way to police — and even newspapers.