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Surviving HIV and Homophobia in Kenya

November 30, 2012

“For being me I have been beaten and sexually harassed by cops,” says Maish, a gay man in his 20s from Nairobi, Kenya. “Once I was at a well-known pub with my friend and we were physically assaulted by the bouncers. We were tied up and the cops were called.

“At the police station we were not booked but we were taken into one of the cells…it smelled of urine and human waste. The cops told us the conditions of our release and we complied – they were to have sex with us. In the morning we were asked to clean the cells after which we were released.”

In Kenya, homosexuality is illegal and as a result appropriate HIV prevention and treatment services that target men who have sex with men, or are at least friendly to them, are hard to come by.

According to new data released by the UNAIDS for World AIDS Day, the prevalence of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in capital cities is on average 13 times higher than that in the country’s general population but many men who have sex with men will not access sexual reproductive health services for fear of being identified as homosexuals.

“At first I contracted a sexually transmitted disease and it was quite hard for me,” says Maish. “I went to the local health facility and the healthcare workers refused to attend to me because I was not able to bring my partner. I owned up and told the nurse that I did not have a girlfriend but I was an MSM and she told me that they don’t treat ‘kuchus’ [deviants].

“Fortunately I had a friend who worked at the KANCO drop in centre in Rongai and she introduced me to the clinician who tested me. I was not very comfortable and I refused to have her physically examine me but I told her my symptoms. After that I was advised to test for HIV and it turned out that I was HIV positive.

“I thought the world would end. I had heard that men who have sex with the men were at a higher risk of getting infected with HIV but I did not think it would happen to me. I was not emotionally ready to receive this awful news because a colleague had just committed suicide after [testing positive] – he could not handle the stigma and discrimination he faced from his family.

“Thankfully the staff at the drop in centre  counseled me and I now know that having HIV is not the end of the world. The staff were very friendly and treated us like people. They didn’t look at us like ‘queers’ or strange but all the same we need to be empowered against sexually transmitted infections and HIV because we are at a high risk of getting infected. More healthcare providers need to be equipped to meet our specific needs in a friendly and humane manner.

“I have never had a girlfriend and I will not lie that I intend to have one. This is me, I am who I am…it is my right.” 

The UNAIDS data shows that Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected by HIV with nearly 1 in every 20 adults about 4.9% living with the virus, accounting for 69% of the global total.

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