AIDSfree: How our Christmas campaign is helping secret Kenyan HIV clinics on a continent where prejudice is rife

Discrimination can prevent proper medical treatment being given to gay people with HIV in Africa. Oliver Poole visits Kenya to hear how funds raised in our Christmas appeal make a difference

Oliver Poole@IndyVoices
Wednesday 12 December 2018 14:18
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LGBT+ people like Kuteesa and Ernest face life-threatening stigma in Africa
LGBT+ people like Kuteesa and Ernest face life-threatening stigma in Africa

Stigma against those who are gay is rife across much of Africa. For Kuteesa and Ernest, it forced them to flee the country of their birth to live in a refugee camp where even there they fear being stoned to death.

Both are refugees in Kenya, a country that has one of the more liberal attitudes towards homosexuality on the continent, but where – particularly in rural areas – people still fear being deprived of medical services, jobs and even food due to their sexuality.

“Going out to buy some food, the shops don’t sell to us,” says Kuteesa, who identifies as a trans woman, speaking about life in the isolated Kakuma refugee camp in the west of the country after fleeing from neighbouring Uganda.

“They refuse to sell to you because you are gay, and that is why we no longer purchase some things. We are so far from the hospitals and can’t walk there because if you do, you can be stoned to death.

“Even if you are sick, you have to just suffer in case you fail to get someone to escort you. Everywhere you go, people ridicule you.”

The stories told by her and Ernest, who is gay, are sadly all too common.

It is why money donated by readers to this year’s Independent Christmas campaign will be targeted not only at addressing the discrimination faced by people like like Kuteesa and Ernest, but also at ensuring HIV programmes are provided at locations where they can feel safe.

LVCT Health is one organisation doing this. So determined is it to ensure that those at risk of being deprived of proper medical care due to their sexuality are not ignored that it runs an outreach programme in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, providing clinics in gay bars and nightclubs which are kept secret because of the risk of being closed down.

Elton John launches The Independent's AIDSfree campaign

The Independent visited one such clinic last week. The venue was a bar that could only be accessed through thick black doors and which gave no indication of its real clientele or purpose.

Up a flight of stairs, around 45 men were gathered. In rooms off the main bar nurses provided condoms, HIV testing and treatment for those already diagnosed.

Ann Mwaura, 28, was one of the nurses. She explained that although the Kenyan government has spent millions of dollars ensuring that HIV testing and treatments are available in hospitals, the bigotry of some working in such public centres meant many of those at risk are too frightened to enter.

“Here we can offer privacy,” she said. “There may not be room for a proper office but we can still provide the help required.”

It is a service that, with the help of the money raised by our AIDSfree campaign, the Elton John AIDS Foundation will be able to extend further, and help finance more programmes in Africa to address the discrimination that so risks depriving people of access to treatment.

That is something Kuteesa and Ernest both wish for. “I would like for us to have enough freedom to live freely without having to hide our feelings in public, just like it is in some foreign countries,” Kuteesa says.

With the money raised by this appeal, hopefully more people will be able to do so.

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