Many Kenyans may not be aware of the wave of misinformation 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.
Recently, a letter signed by at least ten Kenyan parliamentarians alongside religious leaders raised questions about the U.S. 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.
I spent time a few months ago advocating and persuading senators and congress members for its continuation. PEPFAR, in conjunction with the Global Fund, contributes to a significant 80 per cent of the HIV response in Kenya. The impact of this program cannot be understated, and its continued support is imperative for achieving our goals.
PEPFAR, initiated by the U.S. Government in 2004, has played a pivotal role in saving countless lives of individuals battling HIV &Aids around the world. In Kenya alone, the U.S. government has invested a staggering 6.5 billion dollars since its inception. The program has provided essential antiretroviral treatment (ART) to over 1.1 million Kenyans, 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 (VMMC) for 121,592 men, a crucial step in preventing the spread of HIV. The program’s support also extends to over 732,000 orphans and vulnerable children, providing them with essential care and assistance.
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 detrimental to the progress we have made in combating the HIV epidemic.
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Homa Bay County, for instance, has an alarmingly high HIV prevalence rate, nearly 4.5 times higher than the national average yet Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma signed the letter unreservedly. Let us dispel the cloud of misinformation surrounding PEPFAR and its efforts in Kenya. As we move forward, let us reaffirm our commitment to human rights principles as the foundation of all health interventions. Our pursuit of a healthier, more equitable future demands nothing less.
Mr Maleche is the Executive Director of the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN)