Access to reproductive health services for the LGBTI community will contribute to reduced HIV prevalence in Kenya

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issue remains highly emotive in Kenya and Africa at large.   Recent press reports in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria reveal how the LGBTIs are discriminated, stigmatized and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. The governmental Kenya National Human Rights Commission, KNHRC, reported in April 2012 that the health care providers are not friendly and hardly understand LGBTI sexual and reproductive health needs.

LGBTIs face physical harassment by members of public who mock and assault them for practicing "unnatural" sexual relations. They often face arbitrary arrest, are often detained at the police stations, subjected to torture and unnecessary harassment by the police who extort money from them and are only released after bribing their way out.

According to a 2011 Kenya National Human Rights Commission report, even doctors often violate the privacy of LGBTI patients by exposing them to other staff or police, preaching to redeem them, or altogether denying them medical care. The testimony of one such victim of violation illustrates discrimination.

The doctor refused to believe that I was gay; he said he had only heard of gay people on TV and that I was simply lying (even after seeing my anal warts). He then called his colleagues to come spectate. It was quite embarrassing for me. He later told me to go read Leviticus 18:25, I felt judged

The Penal Code (sections 162-165) provides a justification for individuals and groups opposed to sexual minorities to deny services, visit on them acts of physical violence, verbal abuse, blackmail and extortion, with impunity.

This widespread negative attitude to LGBTI has serious reproductive health consequences. The lack of legal recognition for LGBTI persons in Kenya has remained a major stumbling block to meeting their health needs. Reports from the National Aids Control Council (NACC) show a higher prevalence of HIV among sexual minorities such as men who have sex with men in comparison with other groups. According to NACC, 1,500 MSM get infected with HIV each year with 60% of them engaging in heterosexual relationships. Simultaneously, about 9,000 female partners are exposed to the AIDS causing virus. Sex with multiple partner increases the risk of HIV infections not only for the MSM but also for the extended sex relations.

As mentioned earlier, Sections 162 – 165 of the Penal Code continue to drive LGBTI persons particularly MSMs underground, beyond the reach of health services, for fear of prosecution. In seeking treatment particularly for STIs, the MSM expose their sexual practices and thereby the attendant risk of legal prosecution. The link between HIV and STI infection is well documented and these sections of the law, act in furtherance of HIV spread. Yet, providing safe-sex information for the MSM is construed by many in HIV programming as providing information for commission of a felony.

The National Assembly, the County Assembly, the Ministries of Health, Ministry Education, Information and relevant governmental and non-governmental agencies/organizations must actively participate in changing perceptions, laws and policies about the LGBTI community that have precipitated neglect towards the sexual reproductive rights of this group.

But it is not only the above-mentioned groups that have this responsibility. Article 22 (2) of the Constitution has made the avenue for seeking redress for human rights abuses open to any individual or organization acting on its own behalf, as a member of a group or class of persons, in the public interest or an association acting in the interest of one or more of its members. By removing the formerly strict requirement that a petitioner have locus standi in an application, the Constitution has opened the doors for anyone to bring a petition before the court should there be a violation of any of the rights enshrined therein.

We urge the public to support the moves to ensure the LGBTI community accesses sexual reproductive health services a strategy of reducing new HIV infections. Unless the public actively engages in human rights litigation, the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights will remain paper rights. We must all actively support the NACC in its efforts to decriminalize homosexual conduct in order to increase access of essential HIV prevention, management and care services to LGBTI groups. Such action is imperative if we are to address this recently identified root to HIV infection. As Ban Ki Moon said early this year, “you don’t have to be gay to fight homophobia”-

Sam Owoko- Programs Manager and Deputy CEO- KMET

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