Health officials in Kenya say reducing the transmission of HIV among gay men is a central part of their national AIDS strategy. But they face serious challenges, including the fact that homosexuality is still a crime in the East African nation.
HIV rates among gay and bisexual men in Kenya are far higher than the national average.
Mutisiya Leonard, who runs an HIV prevention, treatment and support program for men who have sex with men in northwestern Kenya, says homosexuality is so stigmatized in Africa that many men don’t want to refer to themselves as gay. This makes reaching them with safe-sex messages and HIV-prevention campaigns difficult. These men are reluctant to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases, he says, and they don’t want to get tested for HIV.
Nationwide, roughly 6 percent of adults in Kenya are infected with HIV. But the rate among men who have gay sex is more than three times the national average. Among male prostitutes in the capital, Nairobi, 41 percent are infected.
In order to address HIV in any community, health workers need to be able to get people to talk frankly and honestly about their sex lives. But Leonard says gay men in Kenya face stigma, discrimination, violence and even jail if they come out of the closet. "The fear of the law, the fear of arrest makes it difficult for people to be open about it," he says.
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