|Participants at an HIV/Aids seminar in a jovial mood after Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi (second right) officially opened it at a Mombasa hotel on Thursday|
Kenyan Cabinet Minister Esther Murugi has faced a massive backlash from all quarters given the statement(s) she made during the just concluded Most At Risks Populations (MARPs) Symposium in Mombasa, Kenya; the first ever to be held in the country. Citing the HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and statistics readily available, she called on Kenyans to accept and embrace gay Kenyans. By de-criminalizing anal sex, it has been shown that the rates of HIV/AIDS in such countries is much lower, nationally, than in those countries that make it illegal to engage in consensual anal sex.
Muslim leaders from the Coast, Christian leaders, the media, and politicians most prominent being the former President Daniel Toroitch arap Moi – whose negative stand on homosexuality is known and well documented – have all come out to condemn and ask for action to be taken on Esther Murugi for supporting what they see as an evil, unafrican and an immoral lifestyle.
Esther Murugi is a well learned, informed and capable leader. She is in the know on the current social trends that affect the country and HIV/AIDS is one of them. Her work with the Special Programmes Ministry is commendable and has enabled her to have a national outlook in the Ministry's programs and policies. Up to date researches and statics suggest that legislation – criminalization of consensual anal sex among adults – is a major obstacle to the prevention, access and provision of medical services of HIV/AIDS.
International bodies like the UN, UNAIDS, civil societies have frequently issued statements asking countries to repeal this laws. Some countries have heeded this and the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won each day as they are able to address all angles and any existing challenges; sadly in those countries that refuse to follow suit the prevalence is rising and the statistics shocking. By de-criminalizing consensual anal sex among adults, they have enabled those who are at risk of infection or already infected to access health care, prevention commodities and other information packages that have enabled them to take care and reduce risks that may cause them to be infected or re-infected.
The real crux here is not morality, culture or religion – homosexuality as sin or immoral or unafrican – but a much broader and fundamental concept which is health. Health for all is a right. Anal sex is the riskiest form of HIV/AIDS infection and given that legislation exists that criminalizes such forces those who engage in this practice not to seek health care. Also, HIV/AIDS bodies and organisations have now for long realized what our experience as the gay community is - that they cannot offer non-stigmatising services to a population or people, who, the law, defines as criminals. They have also cited the lack of any LGBTI sensitivity training or health manuals that they can use to address the various health concerns on LGBTI person and especially MSMs. In addition, this means that some health care commodities e.g. lubes, condoms, syringes and dental dams cannot be procured or manufactured leave alone distributed to these population as it will be seen as if they are supporting a criminal (and immoral) practice.
All Kenyans, under the new Constitution have a right to health care regardless. Esther Murugi was simply echoing this by asking Kenyans to be accepting and open to the more than 2.4 million LGBTI Kenyans present in Kenya.
We support Esther Murugi and assure her of our complete support and encouragement in her endeavours. We wish to ask that religious leaders back down from their persistent calls for action to be taken against the Minister who was simply doing her work. Their calls are unwelcome, ignorant and miss the point. We, as Gay Kenya, support and echo those same sentiments of Esther Murugi, if not to advocate for gays to be accepted and respected, but at least to ensure access to health for all but especially those most at risk of infection – women, children, the physically challenged included.
NTV Kenya report