Thursday, February 3, 2011

Response by Hon. Esther Murugi Mathenge, EGH, MP, Minister of State for Special Programmes

Murugi apologises over the  silly remarks she made last week



Good morning members of the press.

I have called you this morning to put the records straight regarding my comments during a workshop for Members of Parliament on HIV and AIDS held in Mombasa from 27th to 29th Last Month. I have been shocked by the misrepresentation of my remarks during this conference where in my off curve (sic) remarks, a (sic) used an example of Cuba on (sic) the incarceration of people living with HIV.  I would like to explain my intentions in using this example.

But since the media have kept on replaying only bits of my comment to achieve their objects (sic) I would like to repeat the exact words I used:

“In Cuba, when the President Castro was still very strong, anybody who was tested with HIV/AIDS was actually locked somewhere, and once you went in, you did not come out.  I don’t know whether we should be that drastic or what we should do.  But sometimes I think maybe that is what we should  do so that those who are ill are locked in, am just suggesting, it is up to you to tell me whether we should do that or not.  It is not right but that is what he did and that is why in his country there is almost zero contamination.  It is discrimination, but that is how he thought he should deal with it. Am (sic) saying what we should do is to start thinking outside the box and we should do that what need to be done.  We are generals, we are soldiers, and we have to win the war. So it is up to you to look for the best method that will ensure that we win this war of HIV/AIDs”.

From the media reports the main agenda for the meeting has been distorted and I would also like to clarify the Broad objectives of the workshop which were: 

• To update Members of Parliament on the progress made and challenges in the national response to HIV and AIDS including Third Kenya National Aids Strategic Plan (KNASP III).

• Present to Members of Parliament the Revised Field Operations Guidelines for Constituency AIDS Control Committees (CACCs) and District Technical Committees (DTCs).

• Provide a brief on the available funding for HIV and AIDS programmes which are being implemented by Civil Society Organizations and the private sector at CACC, DTC and National levels.

• To brief Members on the role of drug abuse in the spread of HIV and the need to fight against Drug Abuse at CACC and DTC level and the KNAC Bill 2010.

I would also like to put the records (sic) straight regarding Kenya’s position on HIV and AIDS.

The Kenya HIV response is based on human rights principles. It prohibits discrimination on grounds of HIV status; Supports the right of people living with HIV to participate as full actors with dignity; and the right to treatment for HIV as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health as enshrined in the Kenyan constitution.

Kenya has made tremendous success in tackling HIV and scaling up services to reach universal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment.  HIV prevalence has declined from a high of 14 percent in 1990s to an average of 6% among adults in 2009/2010.

Despite these commendable achievements, the country continues to record an average of 122,000 new infections each year.  To sustain the success in fighting this epidemic therefore requires us to examine what has worked in other countries and what we can do to achieve zero new infections.

In my  remarks, I sought to provide examples of other countries that have tried to control the epidemic.  I gave the infamous example of how Cuba in 1988, after a massive testing campaign, incarcerated people living with HIV.  Cuba has always had very low prevalence and very low new infections and in that way, is very different from Kenya.  They withdrew the policy of incarceration in 1993. 

Other countries that have recorded tremendous success include Rwanda whose prevalence rates have reduced from a peak of 11% in the 90’s to 2.8% in the recent times.  In these countries, universal access and country ownership drive the HIV response thus low HIV incidences and lowered AIDS related deaths.

I raised the issue of Cuba in order to foster discussion and debate and never intended to imply that Kenya should move to a strategy of incarceration.  This would be contrary to many Human Rights conventions that Kenya has signed. Ultimately such an approach would also not be successful in controlling the epidemic.  Controlling an epidemic of this magnitude, where 1.5 million people are living with HIV, requires a massive scale up of people accessing testing and counseling and disclosing to their sexual partners and accessing a range of prevention services.  Currently only 57% of adults have ever tested and this is cause for concern.

In addition, as a government policy the HIV and AIDS prevention and control Act 2006 states that no person shall be quarantined or placed in isolation on the grounds of the person's actual, perceived or suspected HIV status.  We therefore continue to encourage Kenyans to know their status, access prevention, treatment and care services.

While I continue to support that we look at other countries approaches and learn from them in order to rid Kenya of HIV, protecting and promoting human rights will encourage people to come forward and access services and reduce stigma and the epidemic

Ladies and gentlemen I therefore don’t understand why the media choose to pick and hype my example which was only intended to activate a discussion. During the workshop other opinions were raise for instance one member of parliament suggested that all boys should be circumcised immediate after birth by tying their manhood to reduce HIV infections others suggested men should marry more than one wife.

But all these were open discussions. We as Members of parliament came up with resolutions which should have been the gist of your reporting. Just to mention a few resolutions:

• Members agreed to support sustainable financing of HIV and AIDS programmes in Kenya including setting up an AIDS Trust Fund. By Fast tracking of the enactment of the KNAC Bill that will ensure the establishment of the Fund that is prudently governed and managed. (through contributions from Government, private sector, levies, remittances etc).

• Members agreed to support a review of Sessional Paper Number 4 of 1997 to facilitate addressing of the emerging issues and challenges.

• The members agreed to support their CACCs to acquire an office where need arises.

• Members agreed to support institutional strengthening for NACADAA especially in terms of staffing and financial resources.

• Members agreed to support the establishment of Narcotics Control Board to deal with the demand and supply issues.

• Members to support the enactment of watertight legislation to:
       a) Curtail the supply of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and the inter addiction of illicit drugs.
       b) Control the importation and prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals to manufacture illicit drugs.

• Members to support the adoption of conducive legislation to prevent HIV among injecting     drug users in all settings including  prisons through implementation of the following interventions:
    a) Needle and syringe programme
    b) Opiates substitution therapy
    c) Comprehensive HIV control programme in prisons

Following the Media misrepresentation I have been viewed to be a very controversial Minister. But I would like to state that I will continue talking openly on issues regarding HIV and AIDS since they fall under my ministry. Personally, I have lost relatives and friends who have succumbed to AIDS. I have also seen orphaned children who are also suffering from AIDS. I therefore know what it means to be infected and affected by the disease.

The other day I mentioned issues regarding Most at risk populations which include Men having sex with men, Sex workers, Intravenous Drug users etc. For us to fight HIV and AIds and reduce stigma we must continue discussing opening on these issues.

• Kenya’s population is 39 million.
• Population tested 4.5million
• HIV positive population 1.5 million
• Population on ARVs 350,000
• Children on ARVs 28,000
• Population NOT on ARVs 30,000
• Estimated population NOT tested 15 million

My parting shot: I call upon all Kenya to know their status. Please let us all get tested.

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