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January 16, 2019

Essential medical services hard to access by gays

Gay couples. /FILE
Gay couples. /FILE

Alexia is a gay living with HIV-Aids in a country where gays are seen as outcasts.

Homosexuality and lesbianism is illegal in Kenya and members of this minority community are often denied essential services such as healthcare.

At 16, Alexia he noticed he was different and tried to talk to his busy mother. He was met with rejection and was sent away from his home. Alexia started hawking sex on the streets.

He was naive and did not have the capacity to make better decisions such as using condoms when with clients. Often he was sexually assaulted and his abusers never used protection.

“It is in that process that I contracted HIV though I was not aware of my status,” he said.

In 2016, Alexia was escorted by a friend to a research centre in the outskirts of Mombasa, where after a number of tests he was informed he was HIV positive.

“We opted going all the way to Kemri in Mtwapa because we could not get a friendly health centre in Mombasa,” he said.

Alexia says accessing medical services is one of the major challenges LGBTs, especially gays, face daily.

He said it is difficult for gays to get treatment when they contract STIs.

“We have been criminalised by most health service providers such that we cannot openly seek medication and resort to illegal means to treat ourselves. This affects us not only physically but also psychologically,” he said.

He is now on ARVs and always makes sure to use condom with his clients and educate his peers on the importance of using protection.

In 2013, a report by Kemri showed 739 male prostitutes operate on the streets of Mombasa every night.

However, the number of men having sex with men is estimated to have risen due to various factors, including poverty.

The numbers are considered to be even higher, as many gays keep that part of their life hidden for fear of stigmatisation.

Nick of HIV-Aids People’s Alliance of Kenya, an organisation championing the rights of men having sex with men (MSM), said they have dealt with numerous cases of mistreatment, especially in health facilities.

He said they are now focusing on collaborating with friendly facilities to offer services to MSMs. “Access to health should be free to anyone despite their sexual orientation. No one should put conditions for one to access medical attention,” Nick said.

He said the organisation is focusing on reducing the number of HIV transmission among homosexuals.

Top on their priority list is imparting knowledge and creating awareness among young men who are joining the “business”.

“The streets are filling with male commercial workers. And most of them need to be armed with essential skills,” Nick said.

HAPA is also educating MSMs on how to negotiate prices with their clients and how to make good use of the money they earn.

“We also emphasis on usage of lubricants, which we provide for free, to reduce friction during intercourse thus avoiding STIs caused by lack of lubrication,” Nick said.

HAPA provides condoms to its more than 200 members.

Nick disputes claims that poverty pushes young men into homosexuality. He says peer pressure is one of the major reasons why the number of gays has been on the rise.

“Young people are eager to make it in life and they are ready to go to all ends just to live lavish lifestyles,” Nick said.

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