Time for straight talk about HIV/Aids

Jomo Kenyatta led the call for Uhuru and Jaramogi Odinga was the face of multi-party politics. But HIV/Aids, arguably the most important fight of our lives, is without an helmsman.

While leaders are pictured taking HIV tests and exhorting the public, especially the youth, to follow suit, they never announce their status, creating the impression that they are all hale and hearty.

Yet the rumour mill suggests that many politicians, business moguls and other public figures are HIV positive. They probably have valid reasons for hiding in the closet. Unfortunately, their silence only helps to entrench the fear and stigmatisation that greatly hamper efforts to fight this disease.

Songster Philly Lutaya stood up for Uganda. Tennis great Arthur Ashe did it for blacks in the US. Nelson Mandela and Kenneth Kaunda stepped forward for South Africa and Zambia respectively with candid announcements about Aids in the family. But this country lacks a leader with celebrity status and the guts to declare his status and give courage to the many HIV afflicted citizens cowering in silence and fear.

Here, a senior public figure will be seen to be ailing as wags speculate about the real cause of his woes. "You didn’t know? It’s the worm. The man is dying!" When the said public figure starts looking really sickly, they fly him off to a foreign country where he’s rumoured to get a "clean blood" transfusion.

Sex is bad

But after years of similar interventions, their bodies finally give out causing their families to issue the all-too-familiar "he died peacefully after a long fight bravely borne" speech.

This is hardly surprising for a country where sex and sexuality are shrouded in sin and taboo. Few Kenyans can bring themselves to mention sexual organs, opting instead for "that thing."

Right from birth, Kenyans are indoctrinated by their parents, religion and the wider community to feel that sex is bad, sinful and dirty, and the mere mention of their sexual organs taboo. Many couples only have sexual intercourse in total darkness. It does not help matters that no religious sermon is complete unless the preacher fulminates against usherati.

Thus, anyone who tests HIV positive feels ashamed. They are afraid of a public backlash and for good reason. When idlers gossip darkly about one’s status, the unstated refrain is always, "Gosh, how could he or she do that thing?"

New theory

Kenyans need to disabuse themselves of this nonsense. If sex was a sin, God would never have equipped mankind with sexual organs. And there would be no baby showers, either. Parents must grow up since new evidence points out that it’s them, more than their teenage children, who engage in unprotected sex.

And while still on the subject, the new theory that increased HIV infections among married couples is the result of married men dabbling in homosexuality is rubbish. Ni mipango ya kando, silly.