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Misinformation about Pepfar puts millions of lives at stake in Kenya

 When former US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec interracted with hair stylists as he visited a President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) project for girls' empowerment in Nairobi, on March 10, 2018. [AFP]

Many Kenyans may not be aware of the wave of misinformation currently making waves in the US but with potentially serious consequences for Kenyans, especially those living with HIV and those committed to the fight against HIV.

It all started on June 6, when a letter signed by at least 10 Kenyan parliamentarians alongside religious leaders raised questions about the US Government's President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) and its commitment to "family values". This letter, addressed to the US Congress and Senate falsely claimed that Pepfar funds meant for HIV interventions were being used to support family planning and other reproductive health services including abortion.

The potential consequences of these allegations could be catastrophic to the Kenyan healthcare system and could affect the upcoming September 30 reauthorisation of Sh50 billion HIV/Aids funding for FY 2024. Over 50 civil society groups have since written to the speaker of the National Assembly calling out this dreadful action by the 10 MPs.

As a seasoned HIV, health, and human rights lawyer with over 15 years of experience in HIV and health programming and winner of the prestigious Elizabeth Taylor Human rights award, I feel compelled to address these misconceptions and shed light on the invaluable work that Pepfar has been doing in Kenya.

Pepfar, initiated by the US government in 2004, has played a pivotal role in saving countless lives of individuals battling HIV/Aids around the world. In Kenya alone, the US government has invested a staggering 6.5 billion dollars since its inception.

Over almost two decades, Pepfar has transformed from an emergency programme to a comprehensive effort aimed at curbing the HIV epidemic. The programme has provided essential antiretroviral treatment to over 1.1 million individuals, offering them a chance at a healthier and more fulfilling life.

More than a million pregnant women have received vital HIV testing and counselling, enabling them to make informed decisions about their health and the well-being of their unborn children.

Pepfar has also facilitated voluntary medical male circumcision for 121,592 men, a crucial step in preventing the spread of HIV. The programme's support also extends to over 732,000 orphans and vulnerable children, providing them with essential care and assistance.

Through substantial financial support, Pepfar has contributed significantly to human resources for health, strengthening the healthcare system with an investment of over $62 million and established 3,670 HIV comprehensive care clinics, serving as crucial hubs for medical assistance and support.

It is therefore disheartening to witness the spread of misinformation regarding PEPFAR's alleged involvement in supporting abortion and allegedly disregarding family values. These claims are not only baseless but also detrimental to the progress we have made in combating the HIV epidemic.

It is worth noting that some of the Kenyan MPs who have signed the letter come from areas with high rates of HIV infection.

A few months ago, I persuaded senators and Congress members not to suspend this programme. Pepfar and the Global Fund contribute 80 per cent of the HIV response in Kenya. The impact of this programme cannot be understated, and its continued support is imperative if we are to achieve our goals. Let us dispel the cloud of misinformation surrounding Pepfar and its efforts in Kenya.

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