World AIDS Day 2008: Insecurity in NEP Halts HIV Activities
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|Northeastern Kenya’s proximity to conflict-prone Somalia makes it relatively unstable|
MANDERA, 1 December 2008 (PlusNews) – Recent fighting and an increased security presence along the Kenya-Somalia border have brought HIV/AIDS campaigns to a virtual standstill in Kenya’s northeastern region, according to local health workers.
Hundreds of people were displaced in October by a security operation in Mandera district after a conflict between the Garre and Murule clans acquired a cross-border dimension, with one clan receiving support from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants.
Thousands of people fled parts of the northeastern region and border areas after Kenya recently beefed up its security presence to counter possible threats from armed Somali groups.
A nurse at the Mandera district HIV/AIDS coordinator’s office confirmed that awareness programmes and HIV treatment management programmes had been suspended in areas affected by the conflict, including the border town of El Wak, which has been particularly hard hit by the fighting.
“My assignments involve a lot of travelling to rural parts of Mandera because I need to interact, assess and pass information [about HIV/AIDS] to communities in those areas, but for last two months I have been unable to make any trips,” said Abdisalan Mohamed, a field officer for the Habiba Organisation for Women and Children’s Affairs, a community-based group in Mandera.
|SOMALIA: Fighting AIDS in a war zone|
|KENYA: High levels of stigma persist in the north|
|KENYA-SOMALIA: Thousands flee amid fears of fighting along border|
The organisation’s coordinator, Habiba Issack, said making field trips to rural areas was a security risk for her staff, and going with a police escort only added to the climate of fear in the area.
“It is a risk for all our workers, and even more for those from a community perceived to be a rival group, to visit some areas and get people to agree to listen to them,” she said.
Issack said many communities were too busy worrying about their safety to attend AIDS awareness sessions. “Any person who is mourning the death of a relative, living in fear, and those who were tortured, are more worried about their safety,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “[This is] the real threat – not the risk of HIV/AIDS.”
Kenya’s North Eastern Province has the country’s lowest HIV prevalence – one percent – but also the lowest literacy rate, with very poor awareness of HIV. Proximity to conflict-prone Somalia means the people living here regularly experience insecurity and displacement.