Political Will the Missing Link for MDGs

Posted on 23 March 2010. Filed under: MDGs, Politics |

By Chryso D’Angelo

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19, 2010 (IPS) – Despite numerous factors that threaten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 – a global financial crisis, a food crisis, climate change, natural disasters – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week that his main concern is “political will”.

Ban addressed U.N. member states and media following the release of his report, “Keeping the Promise”, on Mar. 16. The report “reviews successes, identifies obstacles, and suggests ways to accelerate progress,” according to the secretary-general.

At a meeting of the General Assembly, he warned that, “We are off course because of unmet commitments, inadequate resources and a lack of focus and accountability.”

“We do not need new pledges,” Ban said later that day at a media briefing. “If nations deliver on the financial commitments they have already made, we can achieve the goals. There is clearly a lack of political will.”

The secretary-general added that he is optimistic that the MDG Summit (formally, the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly), which will run Sep. 20-22 at United Nations headquarters in New York, will reinvigorate the commitment to meeting the goals.

“There is a need for a push,” Francesca Perucci of the U.N. Statistical Planning and Development Division, told IPS, “especially because with the financial crisis you have the sense that donors might be more careful.” The push is hard. Nine meetings are scheduled leading up to the summit. They will focus on specific MDG goals.

These include a June conference on maternal and reproductive health, a July gathering of government ministers at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to examine gender equality, and a mid-September report of the MDG Gap Task Force, which will present data and recommendations on how to meet the 8th goal on Global Partnership, which includes international commitments on aid, trade, and debt relief.

The secretary-general strongly emphasised that these goals will not be met if the donor community doesn’t deliver on its promises of official development assistance (ODA). For example, his report notes that 154 billion dollars (in current value) was pledged at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit.

However, the flow of monies has not been steady since 2005. Therefore, 35 billion dollars a year would be needed by 2015 to achieve that target.

While there is no finalised data to assess the impact of the financial crisis on fulfilling the MDG goals, the report estimates that in 2009, 55 to 99 million more people lived in extreme poverty than had been projected before the economic crisis. The numbers are staggering, given that the goal of MDG 1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) was to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

In fact, the number of hungry has been rising since 1995 and the proportion of hungry people in the global population has been rising since 2004-2006. The latest figures show that in 2005, 1.4 billion people, or one quarter of the population of the developing world, lived below the international poverty line, on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

Perucci notes that the food crisis puts the poor in far more dire straits than the economic crisis.

“Looking at the most recent data, food security is one of the targets more at risk of not seeing as much progress,” she told IPS. That’s because economics are not the lone factor affecting its success.

“Food availability doesn’t just have to do with economic growth, but how food reaches developing countries,” Perucci told IPS. “Factors such as natural disasters, poor food distribution policies and lack of social safety nets are contributing to the crisis. That’s the area where the international community will have to work the most.”

Ban is not only rallying member states around the fulfillment of the MDG goals, he’s hoping to rally the world.

“The United Nations will strengthen our efforts to raise public awareness,” he said. “People everywhere must see that reaching the goals is in everyone’s common interest. The September Summit must reinvigorate a sense of moral solidarity. If we don’t, if we fall short, all the dangers of our world will grow more perilous still.”

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WHAT is the relationship between the eight MDGs and the ‘coming of age’ of Soccer on the African Continent?

Posted on 11 March 2010. Filed under: Lifestyle, MDGs, Sports |

For when the sounds of the ‘vuvuzela’ start blurring across four South African cities, MDG campaigners will also stand up to make a point in order to be heard.

A few days ago, the clock chimed a 100 days left before the global curtain is raised on the first-ever World Cup on African soil and for a continent where the poverty situation has almost adorned a lifestyle status, the soccer balls that will be kicked around in Johannesburg’s Soccer City and other stadiums during the World Cup in South Africa will not be far-off from this sad reality.

The host nation itself, is grappling with glaring poverty coming on the backdrop of the generations long apartheid system in that country.

But that notwithstanding, for the nations surrounding South Africa and those beyond, this country is an economic colossus and is a beacon of hope for many and it is therefore clear that the FIFA 2010 World Cup cannot be isolated from the issues that MDGs activists seek to entrench and achieve towards the attainment of the goals by 2015.

Last week, the Civil Society MDG- Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) Zambia in collaboration with the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) launched a ‘Kick Out Poverty’ Campaign towards the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa in June.
“The Civil Society MDG campaign has identified the FIFA 2010 world football cup to be hosted in South Africa as a major opportunity for leveraging and raising the profile of its activities targeted at supporting citizens’ efforts to hold their governments to account for the accelerated achievement of MDGs in Zambia,” GCAP Zambia national director Dennis Nyati explained. “The World Cup will be used as a platform to organise many memorable public mobilisation actions and re-position the MDG campaign strategically both within Zambia and globally.”

Nyati said proposed activities in the campaign would be useful in publicising and deepening policy tasks with the aim of strategically influencing the reports that would be prepared and presented to Zambian governments during the 2010 reviews leading to the high level summit in New York.

The implementation of the ‘Kick out Poverty’ comes on the basis that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Declaration and the beginning of the last lap to 2015 when the MDGs are expected to be achieved.

“2010 for Zambia means the year for political parties to prepare manifestos that mainstream MDGs in their political pronouncements and aspirations. This event will also give political momentum to civic activism and people’s rights to participate in decisions and actions that affect them and consequently offer an additional opportunity to put basic rights at the centre of citizen participation at the centre,” Nyati says.

Nyati further observes that ‘Kick Out Poverty Campaign’ therefore provides space for alternative policies including a more developmental role for the state.

“This marks a continuation of the climate change negotiations, the outcomes of which are crucial to prospects of achieving the MDGs. 2010 is also a special year in Zambia because the country will be among other African countries that will be hosting soccer fans and teams participating to this year’s World Cup,” Nyati points out. “2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the hard-fought independence of several African countries. It marks the 20th anniversary of the launching of the Human Development Report and Human Development indices. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Accra and later in Johannesburg when he declared that the wind of change blowing through Africa was irreversible, a speech which recognised the irreversibility of the tide of political independence as well as the anti-apartheid struggle in Southern Africa.”

Nyati adds further, “2010 is also the year when the World Cup comes to a football-crazy Africa for the first time. These landmark occasions represent a challenge, a sense of urgency and an inspiration.”

It has been said that the rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does, which sums up the game and really goes to the heart of the Millennium Campaign’s thematic thinking for the 2010 World Cup – ‘Kick out Poverty’.

To sum it all, the story of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, is one that culminates into an African contemporary folklore, with chapters on African poverty, sports revolution, political discourse and a time to make a ‘Piga Debe’ or in other words a big noise on the MDGs.

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Kenya Launches Multimillion Dollar Appeal to Restore Vital Mau Forest

Posted on 10 September 2009. Filed under: Environment, MDGs |

Over 25% of Forest Cover Lost to Ecosystem Encroachments Threatening Natural Capital, Wildlife and Livelihoods in Kenya and the Region

UNEP Pledges Continued Support and Calls for Urgent Action at Strategic Partners Forum

Nairobi, 9 September 2009 – A multimillion dollar appeal to save the Mau Forests Complex has been launched by the Government of Kenya at a Partners Forum hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The appeal aims to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mau, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400,000 hectares – the size of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares combined.

The strategic importance of the Mau Forest lies in the ecosystem services it provides to Kenya and the region, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project.”

Kenyan Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga said: “I wish to thank the Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Achim Steiner and his staff for the informed leadership and technical support they provided. Today we gather here to define the way forward for the Mau, I wish to appeal to every Kenyan and development partner to support the Government’s efforts to rehabilitate the Mau by ensuring adequate resources are mobilized to preserve and conserve the ecosystem.”

Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares – approximately 25% – of its forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, illegal resources extraction, in particular logging and charcoal burning, the change of land use from forest to unsustainable agriculture and change in ownership from public to private.

Excised areas include critical upper water catchments for the rivers and the lakes fed by the Mau, bamboo forests and biodiversity rich areas, as well as parts of the Mau escarpment summit.

Deterioration in the Mau ecosystem has impacted major natural assets and development investments around Kenya.

If encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the forest ecosystem continues, it will only be a matter of time before the entire ecosystem is irreversibly damaged with significant socio-economic consequences and ramifications to internal security and conflict, warns a report on the ‘Rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem’, released by the Kenyan Government’s Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex.

The Mau Complex is the single most important source of water for direct human consumption in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya.

The report warns that continued destruction of the forests will inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.

The Mau Complex is the largest of the five “water towers” of Kenya, forming the upper catchments of all main rivers in the Western part of Kenya.

These rivers are the lifeline of major lakes in Kenya and transboundary lakes such as Lake Victoria in the Nile River Basin; Lake Turkana in Kenya and Ethiopia, and lake Natron in Tanzania and Kenya.

But perennial rivers are becoming seasonal, storm flows and downstream flooding are increasing and wells and springs are drying up. The water stress in the Mau is largely attributed to land degradation and deforestation.

At the global level, there are increasing concerns over biodiversity loss, increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss and poor soil and water resources.

While climate change may be a major contributor to the current crisis, the destruction of the forests has reduced the ability of the Mau ecosystem to absorb or reduce the impact of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of the people to changing weather patterns.

The appeal for the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem is launched at a time when Kenya struggles to cope with the consequences of widespread drought which has lead to water and electricity rationing across the country.

The Task Force report points out that the extensive degradation of the Mau Forests Complex could cost Kenya billions of Kenyan Shillings annually from losses in key economic sectors supported by the Mau ecosystem services, including energy, tourism, agriculture, and water supply.

Wildlife hubs such as Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are among the areas impacted affecting wildlife and tourism activities.

Energy projects including Sondu Miriu Hydropower scheme (60 MW), Naivasha geothermal plants, small hydropower plants (4MW) and tea growing areas in Kericho Highlands have also been impacted, among others.

Degradation is likely to jeopardize current and future development plans, despite the Mau Complex’s significant economic potential.

The estimated potential hydropower generation capacity in the Mau Complex catchments is approximately 535 MW – which is 41% of the current total installed electricity generation capacity in Kenya.

The growing geothermal potential in the area is directly dependent on groundwater. If the water table declines the geothermal potential diminishes.

Prime Minister Odinga declared, “Our sights are set high on rehabilitating the Mau Forest Complex to function and provide its ecosystem services to this nation and the Eastern Africa region. We are looking at securing the livelihoods and economies of millions of Africans who directly and indirectly depend on the ecosystem.”

Key Interventions

The restoration of the Mau is a strategic priority that requires substantial resources and political will. A ten-point intervention plan has been identified by the Interim Coordinating Secretariat to implement the recommendations of the Mau Forest Task Force for immediate and medium-term action. Key interventions include:

  • Creation of Effective Institutional Frameworks
  • Strategic Management Plan for the Mau Forest Complex
  • Public Awareness and Community Sensitization
  • Boundary surveys and Issuance of Title Deeds for Forest Blocks
  • Monitoring and Enforcement
  • Relocation and Resettlement
  • Livelihood Support and Development
  • Restoration and Replanting of degraded Sites
  • Private Sector Investment
  • Resource Mobilization

Looking forward, environmental stability and secured provision of ecological goods and services will remain essential to attain sustainable development in Kenya. They are cross-cutting, underlying requirements to achieve vision 2030 – Kenya’s development blueprint.

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New Code of Practice in Kenya Protects HIV+ Employees

Posted on 23 July 2009. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |

“Your CV is great. But we need your HIV test”

NAIROBI, 22 July 2009 (PlusNews) – When Doreen Aluoch*, 32, got a job as a chef at a leading hotel in Kenya four years ago, she was told she had to have a medical examination before she could be employed, but she did not know that the routine checkup would include an HIV test.

“I was taken to the clinic and my stool, urine and blood samples were taken. I was shocked when I was told that I cannot work as a chef because I had HIV, yet nobody even bothered to tell me that I was undergoing an HIV test,” she said.

“I am now running my own restaurant and I perform just like anybody else, and there are many people like me in every sector. Even people who know my HIV status eat at my restaurant and none of them has ever come to tell me he or she contracted HIV because they ate food cooked by me. If one should not be employed because they are HIV positive, then equally even somebody having about of malaria or hypertension is not fit to work either.”

The Federation of Kenya Employers, in conjunction with the International Labour Organization, the Ministry of Labour, the National AIDS Control Council and other bodies in the Kenyan labour sector have instituted a new code of practice that prohibits employers from compelling employees and prospective employees from undergoing HIV tests without consent.

Applicants selected for a job are routinely given medical tests to ensure that they are healthy and qualify for insurance cover. Employers of people with medical conditions such as hypertension and HIV have to pay higher insurance premiums.

“There is nothing wrong with an employer asking for medical examination results from an employee, because this helps them help the employee manage their health conditions better,” said Jacqueline Mugo, executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers.

“[But] we are saying it is wrong to use this, and specifically in relation to HIV and AIDS, to deny one employment opportunity so long as they are fit to work. It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment.”

Patchy implementation of workplace policies

''It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment''

She noted that “While 60 percent of employers in Kenya have HIV and AIDS policies, they vary in nature and we envisage that this code of practice will act as a guideline, and set the ground rules for employers in implementing workplace and world of work HIV policies.”

Irene Opiyo, a labour policy consultant, said most employers did not want to employ people living with HIV because they perceived them as unproductive, and would increase the company’s health care costs. She called on the government to draw up labour legislation regarding HIV and crack down on companies with discriminatory policies.

In July 2008, a woman won a landmark case in the Kenyan High Court when she sued her employer for dismissing her on the basis of her HIV status, and her doctor for revealing her HIV tests results without her consent.

In the only case of its kind in Kenya, the court awarded the former waitress US$35,000 and ruled that it was unlawful to end a person’s employment on the basis of being HIV positive.

AIDS activist William Kundi told IRIN/PlusNews that the new code of practice was long overdue. “Some employers do not even tell you the reason they are not employing you, and only tell you that you are not fit to work. It is traumatizing and … stops those who are positive … from revealing their status.”

The new code will help organizations in the management, care and treatment of employees living with HIV, and will also help them set up HIV-related interventions in places of work.

“I believe this is the best place to reach them [employees] with HIV-related messages, like those that promote reduction of stigma, abstinence and faithfulness,” said Mugo. “Employers must work closely with employees to reduce stigma at the workplace to increase productivity of employees.”

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Struggling to Meet Demand for Male Circumcision in Kisumu

Posted on 2 July 2009. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A mother comforts her son who has just been circumcised at a Marie Stopes clinic in Nyanza

KISUMU, 1 July 2009 (PlusNews) – Demand for medical male circumcision has been rising in Kenya’s south-western Nyanza Province since it became available as part of a package of HIV prevention services in November 2008.

Although local communities do not traditionally practice male circumcision, intensive sensitization programmes by governmental and non-governmental organizations are boosting acceptability.

“We are ensuring that this public health measure is implemented in a culturally sensitive environment, and that men and their families have the information they need to make informed choices,” said Dr Jackson Kioko, Nyanza’s director of public health.

So far 20,701 men have been medically circumcised at 124 private and public health facilities across Nyanza, the only province where the programme has been rolled out.

Nyanza has the highest HIV prevalence in Kenya – 15.3 percent, more than double the national average – and a low level of male circumcision.

A national task force will coordinate wider implementation of the procedure, and the National AIDS Control Council has set aside 16.1 million Kenya shillings (US$212,500) to encourage greater acceptance of it.

Dominic Oyier, 30, a member of the Luo community, which does not traditionally circumcise men, feared he would be ridiculed by his friends and relatives if he decided to get circumcised. “Later, when I received the information from community sensitizers, I thought it was a good thing, especially when I was told that it can even benefit my wife by reducing her chances of getting cervical cancer,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

“I decided to go for it … It is a scary experience but it is worth it and even some of my friends consult me because they also want to try it out.”

''There are men who will come to the clinic seeking these services, but the moment you mention that they have to abstain for six weeks…they change their minds''


Dr Walter Obiero, a clinical manager at the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society, said the biggest challenges were the shortage of trained health workers, and persuading men to abstain from sex for six weeks following the surgery.

“There are men who will come to the clinic seeking these services, but the moment you mention that they will have to abstain for six weeks, as is required after the circumcision, they … change their minds,” he said.

“Then there is the issue of staff constraints, especially in government facilities. The number of staff already trained to offer circumcision services falls far below the  demand, and other health services also need to be attended to by the same health workers.”

Most of the 450 government health workers able to offer male circumcision services including counselling, performing the procedure safely and ensuring infection control, have been trained by the Male Circumcision Consortium, which includes Family Health International, the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society, the University of Illinois at Chicago and EngenderHealth, a reproductive health organization.

Read more:
Rising demand for male circumcision
Male circumcision sparks controversy
Government to roll out male circumcision
At the cutting edge – male circumcision and HIV

Less than one percent of male circumcisions have had an adverse reaction. “Any complication that may arise could be mainly due to the client ignoring the advice of health personnel on how to care for themselves immediately after the procedure,” said Dr Obiero.

Until more government health workers can be trained, the consortium is providing more than 75 percent of circumcision services, and taking a lead in informing people that male circumcision provides only partial protection against HIV infection, and they should keep using condoms.

Women have been targeted with information about how male circumcision can benefit them by reducing their risk of cervical cancer and improving hygiene to ensure they support the programme.

Models for providing circumcision services through outreach and mobile services are also being explored.

“The outreach services involve sending providers to health facilities that do not have capacity to offer male circumcision on a regular basis, due to lack of space or insufficient health personnel,” said Kioko.

The government and its partners have set a target of circumcising 80 percent of all uncircumcised men between the ages of 15 and 49 in Nyanza over the next 10 years, reaching a total of one million men.

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Worldchanging Interview: Wangari Maathai

Posted on 22 May 2009. Filed under: Environment, MDGs |

Sustainability in a bright green world is about much more than environmentalism. It is about preserving our natural resources, yes. But it’s also about seeing those resources holistically, and understanding that a healthy environment is the foundation for human health and happiness, for international security, and for economic stability.

Few people embody this vision as passionately as Dr. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan scholar, activist and politician who in 2004 became the first woman from Africa, and the first environmentalist, to join the ranks of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Maathai has made a life’s work of challenging tradition, questioning authority and exceeding expectations. At a time when few Kenyan women were educated, she won a scholarship to attend college in the United States, where she studied biological sciences as an undergraduate and later earned a masters degree from the University of Pittsburgh. After returning to Kenya and the University of Nairobi, she become became the first woman in her country to be awarded a Ph.D.

In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has mobilized women across Kenya to plant trees – and has paid them to do so. The Movement has since planted more than 30 million trees, and was recently depicted in the documentary Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. Maathai has been a fearless activist and spokesperson for issues including women’s economic rights, poverty and education. She was elected to Kenya’s parliament by an overwhelming majority vote in December 2002, and served as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife from 2003 until 2007.

Earlier this year, she released her third book, The Challenge for Africa, in which she puts forth realistic but ambitious strategies for Africans to end a decades-long cycle of corruption, poverty, ignorance, environmental degradation and other deep-rooted problems. The solutions, she says, must start with the African people themselves; they must embrace and exude an image of their positive potential rather than their victimhood, and that they must demand respect and justice beginning with their own governments.

We had the honor of speaking with Dr. Maathai during her visit to Seattle in April.

Julia Levitt: In The Challenge for Africa, you argue that of all of the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015, it’s the seventh — environmental sustainability — that is most important. How is a healthy environment the keystone for all of these economic and social goals?

Wangari Maathai: The way I look at it, we tend to put the environment last because we think the first thing we have to do is eliminate poverty and send children to school and provide health. But how are you going to do that? In Kenya, one of our biggest exports is coffee. Where do you grow coffee? You grow coffee in the land. To be able to grow coffee you need rain, you need special kinds of soils that are found on hillsides, and that means you have to protect that land from soil erosion so you don’t lose the soil. You also want to make sure that when the rains come you’re going to be able to hold that water and have it go into the ground so that the streams and the rivers keep flowing and the ground is relatively humid for these plants. For the rains and the rivers you need forests and you need to make sure these your forests are all protected, that there is no logging, that there is no charcoal burning and all the activities that destroy the forest. All this really needs to be done so that you can be able to grow good coffee, so that you can have an income, so that you can send your children to school, so that you can buy medicine, so that you can take them to hospitals, so that you can care for the women, especially mothers.

We see that the environment is something to exploit, because we see the environment in terms of minerals for example, or forests, or even raw materials that we produce on our land, or even land itself. We see it in terms of what we can exploit rather than the medium in which all of these activities have to take place. But you can’t reduce poverty in a vacuum. You are doing it in an environment.

JL: In your book, you argue that it’s most important for African people to develop solutions for their own needs instead of relying on aid from abroad. How do you envision a healthy exchange between Global North and Global South?

WM: I hope that it doesn’t come out in the book that I’m saying that Africans don’t need any help. What I am trying to say is that they need to learn to rely on themselves and to learn from other people, and when you learn something from other people, then you keep moving onward for yourself.

For example, they have land. The government of Qatar wants to lease the Tana River delta, which is in Kenya, from the Kenyan government, so that they can produce food there. People in Kenya need food. We have people who have studied agriculture. Why is it that if we really need food, we cannot go into the delta and develop our own food? Why do we have to have people come from afar to come and grow food for us, or to grow food to sell to us? It is partly because we are almost becoming used to people doing things for us. Like somebody else is going to solve that problem for us. And that to me is very disempowering system. And that system eventually can make you destroy yourself completely, because you are so dependent on others. Nobody in the world is completely dependent on another person, but we are all interdependent.

I was particularly talking with respect to aid, because that to me is one area that can make people so dependent, and unfortunately, that dependency starts with the government. It goes to local authorities and even to members of Parliament so that individual citizens almost become people who want to sit and wait for their member of Parliament to come and solve the problem. Now that won’t take you anywhere. And if you follow it, you will see that it feeds corruption in the country.

JL: You write that African nations are being left behind in the global trend toward renewable energy. Do you have a vision for how African people and governments can work to bring renewable energy industries to African nations?

WM: We have been trying to follow the same development, often that we have learned from the industrialized world. Yet now the industrialized world is moving away from fossil fuels and moving towards renewable sources of energy. And because we have not invested so much into education, we don’t have the technology and sometimes we don’t even have the capital to buy this technology. But obviously the world is moving away from high carbon energy to low carbon energy, and eventually moving away toward renewable energy. So it is in the interest of Africa to move towards that, because that’s where the world is moving.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe she’s ready to shift — and she needs to shift. So she needs to get the technology and she can only get that technology from the developed world. So the developed world should be willing to help her and support her and make this energy affordable. Because if Africa is left behind, she is going to continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, especially carbon. She’s going to continue logging the forests, she’s going to continue burning charcoal, she is going to continue practicing agricultural activities that destroy the environment, and sooner or later Africa’s problem will become a global problem.

That is why it is in the interest of the developed world to help her, and it is one of the reasons why I say we all need to work together to save the Congo forest, because if we don’t save the Congo forest, the Amazon forest and the southeast Asia forest, if those forests release the carbon they are trapping at the moment, much of what you will be doing in the North will be negated by the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. So this issue of carbon is one area where we really need to work together and if people don’t have the technology they need, that technology needs to be made available and affordable.

Sarah Kuck: In the documentary Taking Root, you said that after you went to America for university, it was very hard to re-adjust to the level of women’s rights in Kenya. Can you talk about how things have changed for African women since the ’60s and what struggles women are still encountering?

WM: Things have changed tremendously. Most parents want to send their children to school, including girls, and usually poverty is the big blockade that makes them not do that. Human rights have also greatly improved. There are laws that allow women to own property, to buy property and to inherit equally as men. But the problem that we have seen since that time is that tradition sometimes excludes the girl child from inheriting; or single women may not want to be perceived as pursuing too much property. The law has come a long way in favor of the woman, but it is the tradition, the attitudes, that we often have to fight.

SK: What kind of things are happening that are changing peoples opinion about traditional women’s rights and women’s roles?

WM: I have seen a lot of men, for example, who will make a will and include their daughters whether they are married or not. And perhaps the greatest change of attitude is that today, at least in Kenya, if you don’t send your child to school — unless it’s a matter of poverty or religion, and it is not that there no schools — then people wonder, “why the hell don’t you send your children to school?” Now that’s a very big jump from when I was going to school and educating girls was an exception to the rule.

People are dynamic. They change, and soon as there are enough of you, things change [for a whole society]. Education of course is a very empowering experience, so many people who went to school also managed to improve their quality of life much faster because they could get a job, they could get money, and with money you could buy things that you cannot buy if you don’t have money. So once people see that you improve you life if you are educated, then education becomes a valuable tool and people want it.

SK: Powerful corporations and individuals would like to come into Africa and help with food and farming initiatives. Do you see these as positive, or are they hurting local farmers?

WM: At the moment, both private companies and governments have proposed to come and lease land in Africa. For example, the government of Qatar, as I mentioned, has proposed to come and lease Kenya’s Tana River delta in order to farm there. What I am not sure of is, has an environmental impact assessment been made to ensure that exploiting this delta for agricultural activities is the best way we can use the delta?

We must be concerned about the long-term impact of agricultural activities in the delta. That question I feel is very important when you consider, for example, what America did in the Gulf, and a lot of that coastal exploitation, at a time where we did not know enough about how to manage these seaside land masses. Today the American government has spent a lot of money trying to reclaim, for example, the Everglades, and to allow the natural vegetation at the coastal areas to be restored because that was part of the vegetation that actually protected the hinterlands. After Hurricane Katrina, many people said that the levees were not as effective as the natural vegetation that had been removed at the coast. So that means as we develop these seaside land masses, we need to have enough knowledge to not regret in the future. We know that the US government is literally buying these lands back to allow them to be rehabilitated. Why would anyone want to repeat the same mistake in Kenya at this time? And I’m not quite sure that the government of Qatar is ignorant about that and I’m not quite sure that the Kenyan government is ignorant about that, but between the two of them, unless they are going to be questioned, they are interested in making profits now.

I’m sure the government of Qatar is not coming in to grow food for the people of Kenya; it’s coming to grow food to sell. If it can also sell to the people of Kenya, well, then good. I think that the moves can be helpful, but I think that the history that Africa knows, as I say in my book, has been a history of exploitation.

There are certain areas where foreign investors can help the local people to generate wealth, and improve their quality of life. Some companies, for example, Del Monte, which produces pineapples in Kenya, pay a huge amount of taxes, I am sure, to the Kenyan government, and they do create jobs for thousands of locals. But there has to be an understanding that you can’t just go there to exploit, and governments need to be interested in protecting their people from such exploitation. An individual citizen cannot protect himself from the powers of large corporations or external governments. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens.

SK: Do you feel that it is an appropriate solution for farming in Africa to start using genetically modified crops that might produce a larger quantity of food?

WM: Maybe instead of answering that question directly, because there are so many pros and cons of genetically engineered food, let me use an example.

Nile perch is a fish that was introduced into Lake Victoria. The reason that fish was introduced into Lake Victoria was because it was decided that the people living near the lake needed more proteins than they were getting. Now, the people around the lake were used to eating a very small fish that was prolific in the lake, and they would fish with very simple nets and very simple boats. Now when Nile perch was introduced, I don’t think enough research was done; maybe it was done, maybe it was not. But Nile perch is a huge fish. So it ate all the little fish, and it grew into a monster which the local people could not fish with their little boats and their little nets.

So now we have allowed people to come, not local people, with these huge boats which can catch this fish, process them, put the meat in freezers and directly export them to Europe or other parts of the world. And the bones are processed by the same boats into chicken feed, which is then sold to the multi-national corporations that produce chicken in large number. So the question I would ask then is, where were the local people helped?

I think some of these solutions are prepared in an office without a full understanding of the local situation…Or maybe there was never the intention to help the people anyway. So GMOs, who knows? Maybe GMOs will come, they will get maize that produces double. But who knows what else may happen to the maize?

As a scientist I cannot say we don’t want to hear anything about GMOs, because these are advances in science. But I think its also important, especially when you are dealing with food, to be cautious, and I think this is one area where the is a need for legal regulations to make sure that companies — because at the moment, companies are the ones that have this technology — will not use this technology in a way that could adversely affect the people.

SK: Are there ways that African farmers can work with international corporations for mutual benefit, or do you think that exploitation is always the end result?

WM: First of all, farmers should work with universities and research institutions in the country, and hopefully with the government. One of the reasons why I’ve written The Challenge for Africa is to save it. Surely there are so many problems we can solve in Africa, but first and foremost, we need a government that feels responsible to protect their own people from the exploitations, from the misuse, from the mistreatment that they can easily get. There is no reason why a company like Monsanto, for example, that is pushing GMOs, cannot go to Kenya, partner with the university, partner with the research institutions, and try to promote – in a responsible way — advanced techniques to help farmers. But this should be done in such a way that the farmers’ livelihoods are not undermined because the government is irresponsible or careless, or because it is compromised.

Monsanto will not come empty-handed. Monsanto will come with a big bag of money. And because these governments are poor, when they are shown money for their research institutions, for their universities, for their professors, they are very quick to say yes, and I can tell you that when Monsanto came to Kenya, they were able to be given permission to do research in one of our research institutions, and yet there was not a single law to control such research. They said laws will be created. Why would you want to start the research before laws are created? One should be creating laws so that those scientists are regulated, they are controlled, they are guided by a legal mechanism that will ensure that they remain responsible and accountable to the people for whom they are doing research. I think maybe as we speak, the rules have now been drafted. But it has been more than three years now since that research was started. Those are the kind of steps that make me a little bit nervous because it’s so easy to twist the arms of the government with money.

SK: For the African people whom you know, does the desire and the need for quality and quantity of food supply trump things like environmental safety or longevity for the soil?

WM: Quite often when you help poor people, they don’t think about the environment. They think about survival. One of the reasons why we started the Green Belt Movement is to work with these ordinary peasant farmers so as to educate them that, despite the fact that they are poor, it is in their interest to protect the soil that they have, to protect the forest they have, to protect the land that they have, because if they don’t do it, things can be only worse tomorrow for them for them and for their children.

Photo credit: Sean Conroe.

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Playing At Home is Safer

Posted on 16 April 2009. Filed under: Governance, Lifestyle, MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons
Two-thirds of HIV-positive Kenyans are either married or cohabiting

(PlusNews) – Marriage is not a safe haven from HIV; in fact, the pandemic is spreading rapidly among married people in Kenya. This is the core message of a new campaign to discourage extramarital sex.

“Wacha mpango wa kando; epuka ukimwi” – Swahili for “stop relationships on the side; avoid HIV” – is the name of the initiative developed by Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme, and the National AIDS Control Council.

“Our campaign is necessitated by the increasing number of infections in marriages,” said Lucy Maikweki, deputy director of HIV and communication at PSI.

Print ads warn cheating married people that their “spare wheel” could have their own spare wheel, who could also have a spare wheel, who could be HIV-positive, putting the whole chain in jeopardy.

A series of TV spots feature a couple sitting in their living room watching a televised HIV message on fidelity. The woman is warned that if her husband is very secretive with his phone, it may be because he is cheating. The man is warned that if the woman is keen to change the channel when the HIV message comes on, she may be hiding something.

According to the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey, in 10 percent of monogamous couples and 14 percent of polygamous unions at least one partner is HIV positive, while two-thirds of HIV-infected Kenyans are in stable relationships.

“There are signs of an increased number of discordant couples [where only one partner is HIV-positive], which is a clear indicator of rising levels of infidelity in marriage and other long-term sexual relationships,” Maikweki said.

A 2007 study by Kenya’s University of Nairobi found that 17 percent of men surveyed and eight percent of women reported having extramarital relationships.

''I trust the woman I go out with and so that advert is not meant for me''

PSI’s campaign targets men like Joshua Omondi*, an upwardly mobile sales representative who says he is happily married but gets bored with the monotony of a single sexual partner. For the past year, he has been having a relationship with a young university student.

“I cannot be with my wife every day … I just need a break from the family boredom, so we meet in a night club every weekend where we have a good time and later get to spend a night somewhere; after that I go home to my wife and children,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

Omondi does not use condoms with either his wife or mistress. “Initially [my girlfriend] and I used a condom while having sex but we later stopped because I thought I could trust her enough,” he said. “Using a condom with my wife when I get back home is unthinkable, because that will definitely lead to mistrust.”

Maikweki said many people involved in extramarital affairs did not use condoms for similar reasons. “There is some false sense of trust over time,” she said.

The “wacha mpango wa kando” campaign also encourages couples to be tested for HIV, not just at the start of a relationship, but well into marriage and other long-term relationships.

Omondi has seen the campaign, but is ambivalent about its message. “The campaign is a good one, but, you see, I trust the woman I go out with and so that advert is not meant for me,” he said. “After all, it encourages sticking to my wife, which I am not ready to do anytime soon.”

Read more:
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Love in the time of HIV/AIDS

PSI is conducting a survey to assess the impact of the campaign, but it appears to be having a positive effect on Agatha, a married woman who admits to having lovers besides her husband.

“The new TV campaign strikes you when you watch it,” she said. “You have the feeling you should use a condom with an extramarital partner.”

*Not his real name

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KENYA: Changing Lifestyles Put Indigenous Communities at Risk

Posted on 27 February 2009. Filed under: Governance, Lifestyle, MDGs, Public Health |

The Ogiek have battled eviction from their home in Mau Forest for decades

MAU FOREST, 23 February 2009 (PlusNews) – One of East Africa’s last remaining hunter-gatherer communities, the Ogiek people, has largely remained separate from the rest of society, but NGOs warn that their ignorance and isolation from HIV/AIDS prevention efforts could heighten their vulnerability to the virus.

According to the Centre for Minority Rights and Development (CEMIRIDE), an NGO promoting the rights of indigenous peoples in Kenya, total ignorance of HIV among the Ogiek is not uncommon.

“There are no HIV campaigns at all directed at the Ogiek … the government do not even have statistics about the prevalence amongst them,” said Pattita Tiongoi, a programme officer with CEMIRIDE.

“The disease is penetrating through the Ogiek because of displacement, which has seen them mingle with their infected cosmopolitan neighbours like the Maasai and the Kalenjin.”

Napuoyo Moibei*, who thinks she is about 35 years old, was evicted from the Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province several years ago and took up employment on a nearby wheat farm to make ends meet.

“The money was little, and with children and no husband, my option was to have sex with men from other communities who lived in the nearby trading centres,” she told IRIN/PlusNews.

Moibei’s husband passed away three years ago, and she recently discovered that she too was HIV-positive. “I had never heard about the disease called AIDS until I got sick and was almost dying,” she said. “The wife of my employer sympathised with me and took me to Nakuru for treatment.”

“I still do not know much, except that I have to go for drugs [life-prolonging antiretroviral medication] in Nakuru to live – that is what the nurse told me.”

''I had never heard about the disease called AIDS until I got sick and was almost dying''

With no knowledge about the virus, Moibei was unable to protect herself. “I do not know even how a condom looks like,” she said.

Experts say there is an urgent need to start HIV awareness campaigns targeting the Ogiek population of around 20,000, especially as more of them leave the forest for urban settlements and rural plantations, where they interact with higher-prevalence communities.

A study by the Minority Rights Group International and CEMIRIDE found that sex work was increasing as single-parent girls and women sought to fend for themselves, leading to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

“The initial lifestyle of being confined to the forest kind of shielded the Ogiek from HIV spread, but that lifestyle has been disrupted due to displacement,” CEMIRIDE’s Tiongoi said. “This is a small group of people that can easily be wiped out by [HIV] in just a few generations.”

According to Daniel Kobei, executive director of the Ogiek People’s Development Programme, HIV and other health issues have been sidelined as the government and NGOs focused on other Ogiek issues such as landlessness and poverty.

Kobei noted that very few Ogiek were literate, which meant they could not benefit from traditional HIV campaigns and would need specially created messages; health services would also have to be brought nearer the forest to reach the people still living there.

“Those who seek medical help have to come all the way to Nakuru, which is almost 40 kilometres away from where they are; it is a tiring walk for one who is living with the virus,” he said.

Most Ogiek still live in the Rift Valley, which has an HIV prevalence of seven percent, slightly lower than the national average of 7.4 percent.

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HIV Testing From Door to Door

Posted on 23 February 2009. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Glenna Gordon/IRIN
So far, more than 45,000 people have been tested

TURBO, 17 February 2009 (PlusNews) – Joel Kirwa, a farmer in Rift Valley Province, western Kenya, has never been tested for HIV; he is usually too busy tending his cattle and fields and rarely visits Turbo town, where the nearest voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre is located.

Today, however, a health team is going from door to door in his area, offering HIV counselling and testing to every household. “Home testing is very helpful – it is private, so your results and even the fact that you tested are hidden … in the normal VCT centres you can meet people who know you and will talk about you,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

Kirwa and his wife were both HIV negative, and he proudly displayed the ‘certificate’ the counsellor gave him as proof of his status.

The Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS (AMPATH) ran a pilot project in the Rift Valley Province’s Kosirai Division in 2007, testing 19,000 out of 20,000 eligible people. The official programme has been running since August 2008.

“Prior to the start of HCT [home-based counselling and testing], a majority of the HIV patients have been presenting to the clinic late, when their CD4 cell count [a measure of immunity] is low and they are unable to work,” Dr Samson Ndege, the project coordinator, told IRIN/PlusNews.

AMPATH is conducting tests in Turbo, in Uasin Gishu District, and Mautuma, in Lugari District, which have a total population of about 120,000; so far, 45,000 people have been tested, of which 1,483 have been HIV positive.

Anyone over the age of 13 is considered eligible for testing, as well as children under 13 whose mothers are positive; parental consent is required before children can be tested. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are used for data collection, and coordinates indicating the location of households are marked using a global positioning system.

AMPATH uses community mobilizers, selected by local chiefs, to go from door to door, telling people about the importance of being tested ahead of the counsellor’s visit.

“People have become much more receptive and less suspicious,” said Peter Musili, a nurse and counsellor with AMPATH. “The word of mouth from those previously tested has been very useful.”

Teething problems

Counsellors often have to visit homes more than once. “Many men are normally away from home and may not be found the first time the counsellors visit their homes. It was also difficult to find school-going children at home,” Ndege said.

“We encourage them [counsellors] to make appointments, so that couples can be counselled together during subsequent visits. We have also made arrangements so that visits can be made over the weekend to find children who are day-scholars,” he added.

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
“Home testing is very helpful – it is private

“Getting couples to test together has been challenging, especially given the high rate of discordance [when only one of them is positive]. Getting those individuals who test positive to go to the clinic has also been difficult – couples who were not tested together may have problems disclosing their status to their partners.”

A recent national survey found that 43.8 percent of HIV-infected married or cohabitating people had an uninfected partner, but more than three-quarters of all respondents who were part of a couple did not know their partner’s HIV status.

Benefits beyond HIV

AMPATH is providing every home in the area with mosquito nets and deworming tablets for children, while counsellors are also collecting data on immunisation and referring parents to health centres where children can be vaccinated.

“We also collect sputum for TB [tuberculosis] tests from individuals who have had coughs for more than two weeks or those who report night sweats and fever,” Ndege said.

Door-to-door testing was successfully piloted in Bushenyi District, in western Uganda, between January 2005 and February 2007, reaching 63 percent of all households. A study on the impact of the programme found that the benefits of home counselling and testing were far-reaching.

“Aside from expanding coverage, door-to-door VCT may significantly improve stigma and disclosure of serostatus, and may also have a prevention effect through improvements in HIV risk behaviour,” the authors concluded.

Kenya traditionally relies on voluntary counselling and testing, in which patients visit VCT centres on their own initiative, but official figures estimate that 63.5 percent of Kenyans have never been tested for HIV.

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Beef Up Budget Allocations to Achieve MDGs

Posted on 23 February 2009. Filed under: MDGs |

African states should put in place sufficient budget allocations and the right policies if the continent is to meet the global and regional health care targets that governments have committed themselves to, say campaigners.

In 2000 African states, along with most of the world, agreed to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. African heads of state also committed their countries to improving health care across the continent by 2010 at a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2001.

Of the eight MDGs, three relate directly to health. One calls for reducing child mortality, the other for improving maternal health and the last one is aimed at combating HIV/AIDS and malaria. Campaigners are concerned that the majority of African nations will not achieve these MDGs.

Therefore, representatives from 143 member organisations of the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV/AIDS and Allies came together in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week (Apr 9-13) to lobby African health ministers who were meeting at the same time to draft the Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015.

The coalition urged African governments to allocate 15 percent of national budgets to health care, as per the Abuja commitment of 2001. It also urged governments to engage civil society and line ministries in mobilising resources for tuberculosis (TB).

Member states should work towards closing the TB funding gap of nearly 11 billion US dollars over the next decade, the coalition demanded. It organised a demonstration on 11 April. About 1,000 people participated.

“Eight million Africans are dying from HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria every year. We want to stop this,” Regis Mtutu of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) told IPS in an interview. TAC is a pressure group based in Cape Town, South Africa, which seeks access to drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“We cannot meet the MDGs at this pace. We need to double up our efforts through some extraordinary work, particularly in the areas of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria,” said Mtutu.

Regarding the commitment to put aside 15 percent of national budgets for health services, “only Botswana and The Gambia have met this promise”, Mtutu said.

Following the demonstration in Johannesburg, the coalition presented its petition to the African Union (AU) commission for health. “We hope that they will listen to us. We are not fighting them. We are sending our message robustly,” Mtutu said.

Part of the African health ministers’ discussions included a plan to set up pharmaceutical plants for producing life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). Mtutu pointed out that “the ministers for finance and industry were not part of the discussion. To succeed, the health ministers need mandates from their finance and industry counterparts.

“If we are to achieve the MDGs, the key ministerial clusters need to meet in the next six to 12 months,” Mtutu said.

Some campaigners say meeting the health MDGs cuts across other areas such as combating poverty, improving sanitation and infrastructure. Eve Edete, policy officer at Oxfam Kenya office, told IPS that “‘MDGs’ is just a label. It is a brand.

“HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other diseases are really the issue. It is about systems to deliver health care. This should be the starting point to meeting the MDGs,” said Edete.

Although governments have committed themselves to the MDGs and the Abuja target, some prefer to move at their own pace. Kenya’s government, for example, says it will commit 12 percent of its national budget to health by 2008, according to Ruth Charo of Kenya’s Health Nongovernmental Organizations Network based in the capital Nairobi.

“It should be a step-by-step approach. Each country has its own strategy. If you set a time frame it might not work. For example, you cannot expect (strife-torn) countries like Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach the 15 percent target. It is not practical,” she told IPS.

The coalition said in a statement that “the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe deserves special mention as it is also a health crisis for Africa. People living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe cannot obtain the care they need and the climate of violence is perpetuating the epidemics of HIV and TB.

“The shockwaves from the crisis in Zimbabwe are reverberating throughout the continent as refugees seek health care and other services in neighbouring countries. Our health ministers must speak out on Zimbabwe on health and humanitarian grounds,” the coalition argued.

Civil society groups put the number of Zimbabweans who have fled their country since the crisis began in 2000 to 5 million, with 2.5 million of them believed to be living in South Africa. Others have fled to Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Britain and the United States.

In a new report, “Paying for People”, published this month (April), Oxfam estimates that 13.7 billion US dollars must be invested every year to appoint an additional 1 million teachers and 2.1 million health care workers urgently needed to break the cycle of poverty in Africa.

Oxfam is an international charity which is part of the coalition which lobbied African health ministers in Johannesburg,

“Today in too many of the world’s poorest countries health and education services are dependent on a handful of workers struggling heroically to do their jobs on pitiful wages and in appalling conditions. Becoming a doctor, nurse or teacher is like signing a contract with poverty,” Oxfam’s Elizabeth Stuart wrote in the report.

According to the report, “Africa has 13 percent of the global population and 25 percent of the global burden of disease but only 1.3 percent of the global workforce.”

The report cites Tanzania as an example. This southern African country produces 640 doctors, nurses and midwives each year. But to reach the World Health Organisation’s recommended staffing levels within 10 years it would need to produce 3,500 such health workers each year.

Another example is Malawi where only nine percent of health facilities have adequate staff to provide basic health care. The country loses around 100 nurses each year “who emigrate in search of a better wage”, according to the Oxfam report.

Charo told IPS that Kenyan health workers are not only moving overseas but are also seeking opportunities in the private sector for better pay. “If you work for government, you get 12,000 Kenya shillings (about 172 US dollars) but in the NGO or private sector you earn 40,000 shillings (nearly 572 US dollars) a month. People are tempted to move on.”

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World AIDS Day 2008 : Social Club for HIV Positive in Nairobi

Posted on 1 December 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Glenna Gordon/IRIN
Wakesho’s events provide entertainment and allow HIV-positive people to socialise

NAIROBI, 1 December 2008 (PlusNews) – The party at a popular restaurant in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, looks ordinary, but the people attending it – all of whom are HIV-positive – are enjoying a rare opportunity to socialise without feeling like an outsider.

The young men and women spent the afternoon relaxing and getting to know each other; by the end of the evening new friends had been made, phone numbers exchanged and there were plans to meet again.

“It makes life much easier when everyone at a social gathering knows that you are positive and doesn’t judge you for it,” said Frank*, a member of the Stacy Care Foundation, which organises events exclusively for people living with HIV.

The social club is first of its kind in Kenya. “Since I discovered my status, it has been really hard to go out and make friends, because you are always keeping this big secret,” he said.

Stacy Wakesho, who set up the foundation three years ago, was running a tour business specialising in travel packages for groups of single people when she got a phone call from a young man asking her to arrange an event for HIV-positive people.

“That phone call was a revelation for me – I had never thought about how single people living with HIV socialise or date,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “When I placed my first ads in the paper six months later, the response was unbelievable. Most HIV[-positive] people are afraid of infecting HIV-negative people, so their consciences won’t allow them to date normally.”

More than 1,000 HIV-positive people have registered since the club started. “The members are mostly young and single, although some are widowed or divorced,” she said. They can also afford the one-time 1,000 shilling (US$13) registration fee and the additional charges for every event.

The club makes it possible for HIV-positive people to meet friends, and men and women to get to know each other in a “natural” environment. “I don’t believe in setting strangers up; people come to our parties and if they like each other and want to form romantic friendships, they do so without interference from me,” Wakesho said.

The greatest benefit of the club is providing comfortable, safe spaces where HIV-positive people can meet. Frank, who has been a member for two years, said the club had transformed his social life. “I have met lots of men and women, many of whom have become firm friends. Recently I met a very special lady through the club; I think our relationship may get to the next level soon.”

Because of the likelihood of sexual relationships developing, Wakesho frequently brings in counsellors to talk to club members. The NGO, Family Health International, through its Gold Star Network, has partnered with the Stacy Care Foundation to give reproductive health advice to couples.

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“We find that men are usually keen to have sex earlier, even without protection, so usually the women are advised to take control of protection to prevent reinfection, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” Wakesho said.

Although club events provide a temporary escape from the secrecy most HIV-positive people live with, stigma and fear still affect relationships; many couples who had met through the club were cohabiting, but most had stopped short of getting married.

“They have fear, they don’t know what the future holds – they don’t want to take the responsibility of caring for another person whose health is uncertain when their own health is not guaranteed,” she said.

“I have met someone really nice, we have a great relationship,” said Anne*, who joined in 2007. “I have told my sisters about my status; they know I met a man through the club, but he has never told anyone and refuses to meet my family because he fears they may not accept him, or they may tell other people his status.”

Despite these difficulties, she has no regrets about joining. “It is easier than dating someone who is HIV-negative,” she said. “We share so much more, and we can be free with each other.”

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World AIDS Day 2008: Insecurity in NEP Halts HIV Activities

Posted on 1 December 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

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.

Read more
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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.

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OneWorld’s People of 2008 Finalist: Pamela Adoyo

Posted on 30 November 2008. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |

This is a World AIDS day post.

WASHINGTON,  (OneWorld) – Pamela Adoyo stands calmly and resolutely at the epicenter of Kenya’s AIDS epidemic. Her women’s group is helping care for the sick, impede the disease’s spread, and stitch back together a community torn apart by the epidemic.

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Womens Group. © New America Media

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Women's Group. © New America Media

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

“HIV/AIDS has affected all facets of Kenyan society with devastating economic consequences,” says the United Nations. The disease has deprived rural areas in particular of many of their most productive members of the community, and made it very difficult for families to earn a sufficient living, further entrenching poverty.

Children orphaned by AIDS increase the economic burden on the families or community organizations that take over their care. Plus, AIDS orphans are likely to miss out on education, and so are more prone to end up engaged in risky behaviors like prostitution and drug abuse. “This completes the vicious cycle of poverty and HIV/AIDS,” adds the UN report.

But the Dago Women’s Group, which Adoyo helped found in 1996, is pushing back against those trends in the country’s southwestern Nyanza province.

About half of Kenya’s 1.4 million annual HIV/AIDS cases originate in Nyanza, says Alexandra Moe, in a recent profile of Adoyo for New America Media.

“For Adoyo and dozens of other Dago women, the generations-long fight for family survival includes leading the battle against HIV and AIDS, one house at a time, in a region that has been ravaged by the epidemic,” writes Moe.

And in this traditionally patriarchal community, Adoyo’s steadfast leadership is also starting to redefine what women “can” and “can’t” do.

EXCERPTS from the New America Media profile, “Village Mentors: How grassroots advocates are leading the fight against AIDS in Kenya

By Alexandra Moe

In a day that starts with the 5 a.m. cow milking and ends at 10 p.m., when her family has finished its dinner, Adoyo squeezes time from her home and family to manage the 45 local women who are caregivers to the sick. Separately, they fan out to 511 households to check on the 365 men and women in the area who are “down” with HIV/AIDS, and the nearly 2,000 AIDS orphans and other children affected by the epidemic….

When a patient has been diagnosed with HIV and has received medication from the local health clinic, Adoyo’s caregivers take over. They make home visits, organize support groups and give comfort when patients phone them in despair. If they visit a home and suspect someone is HIV positive, they make sure all family members and neighbors are tested. They give out their cell phone numbers so that if someone requires urgent medical care in the middle of the night, they can provide transportation to the nearest hospital — a 40-minute motorbike ride, with the patient riding behind.

“You always say ‘yes’ whenever they call,” Adoyo says. “When you say ‘yes,’ that person has all the hope in the world – that you will come, that you are going to help them, that you will advise. If you say ‘no,’ you have already killed them.”…

The mentors — nearly all of them AIDS widows — who stop by throughout the morning treat Adoyo as one would a village elder. They wait patiently for a few words with her, asking for religious guidance and personal advice as well as their daily work assignments….

Mama Maria, center, is a volunteer mother at the Dago Dala Hera Orphange

AIDS struck Dago with a force in the ’90s, ripping apart the social fabric. The government was ill-prepared to cope with the crisis, so the Dago Women’s Group moved in. The women tended to the sick, and cared for the orphans and vulnerable children — the OVCs, as the relief groups call them — left behind by the deadly virus. The needs were great, and resources extremely limited….

But even in the face of such heartbreak, Adoyo takes pride in the progress the Dago Women’s Group has made against the AIDS epidemic. She says they’ve been especially successful in reducing the shame once attached to the disease.

“There was the feeling that, ‘I can’t disclose my status no matter what happened, I can’t say that I am sick because people will laugh at me,'” Adoyo says. “The stigma was high. That was why people were just dying with the disease — they didn’t want people to know.” Many wouldn’t even get tested, she said, contributing to the spread of the epidemic.

“Now they are coming out to say their status. They go to get tested and they say to the mentor, ‘I am negative, or, I am positive.’ If they are positive they say, ‘how can you help me to live positively?'”

Adoyo is most proud of the orphanage the women built, Dago Dala Hera (“Home of Love”), with fundraising assistance from Dago’s first Peace Corps volunteer. On Sep. 24, 20 girls were moved in, cared for by “volunteer mothers,” most of whom are AIDS widows. Plans are being made to take in the first group of boys….

Adoyo’s successes have not come without personal stress. She struggles to balance her traditional duties as a wife and mother, with the meetings and trainings that take her away from the home.

“This is where I say it’s hard,” she says. “An African woman has her work to do, and the work is too much for them.” In the patriarchal order of her village, Adoyo says, a wife has always been expected to follow her husband’s orders without question. That has to change, she says.

“We say, okay, it is good to do this (housework), but now I am going to do this also (work outside of the house),” Adoyo says. “We want women to be part and parcel of the family, the conversation and the decision making, everything.”

Her husband devotes his days to farming and to working on the orphanage. Touring the girls’ dormitory, Duncan Adoyo says he’s proud of his wife’s leadership in the community. “Pamela’s work has been a turning point for the village and a bright start for the present and future generations,” he says. “As the husband I appreciate so much the work and will keep supporting her in the quest to help the villages.”

* This story profiles one of ten finalists for’s People of 2008 award. Vote for your favorite, read more profiles, or tell us about other amazing people on OneWorld’s People of 2008 page.

2008 World AIDS Day statements

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High Cost of Living Hinders Kenya’s Effort at Poverty Reduction

Posted on 27 November 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Poverty |

Nairobi, Kenya – Efforts by the Kenya government to halve extreme poverty by 2015 as envisaged in the Millennium Development Goals may not be achieved, owing to high poverty level and rising unemployment rates.

The Minister for Planning and Vision 2030, Wycliffe Oparanya, sounded optimistic but noted that key challenges stand in the way of the effort to help bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the country.

According to a 2006 study, poverty levels dropped to 46 per cent.

However, following the post-election violence that gripped the country early in the year coupled with a poor weather that resulted in low agricultural produce, the statistics might change.

“We currently do not have up to date figures on the number of people living below the poverty line, however, a census earmarked for 2010 will assist in giving the probable number of those living in extreme poverty.” Oparanya said in an inter v iew after launching the popular version of the African Peer Review Mechanism – APRM, Kenya Progress Report at the KICC.

The APRM progress report indicates key challenges facing Kenya in its effort to achieve economic growth, including youth unemployment rates and that of female youth as high as 27 per cent of the total population, while national unemployment is pegged at 12.7 per cent.

According to the minister, government efforts to reduce the high poverty levels are also being undermined by cartels in the business community bent on ensuring that the cost of living remained high.

He cited the fuel prices that are being maintained high by oil marketing companies, which in effect is pushing up the cost of living.

“The government is putting a lot of resources into the National Oil Corporation (NOCK), to import petroleum products directly in order to regulate the high fuel prices,” Oparanya said.

During the launch of the report, UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya Aeneas Chuma reiterated the body’s commitment to work with the Kenya government in dealing with the challenges but called for the implementation of Agenda 4 of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Accord in order to achieve social harmony and economic growth.

Oparanya at the same time took a swipe at weak legislation in the formation of the Poverty Eradication Commission (PEC) that has resulted in the slow pace at which poverty eradication measures are being addressed.

Kenya acceded to the APRM in March 2003 and was the third country to be peer-reviewed after Ghana and Rwanda.

President Mwai Kibaki was reviewed by his peers at the APRM heads of state forum in June 2006 in Banjul, Gambia.

The report launched Tuesday, will be discussed next January at the Africa Peer Review Forum to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Nairobi – 26/11/2008

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Countdown to World AIDS Day 2008:LEAD-EMPOWER-DELIVER

Posted on 25 November 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

World AIDS Day, observed December 1 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 33.2 million people living with HIV, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.

Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 3.1 million (between 2.8 and 3.6 million) lives in 2005, of which more than half a million (570,000) were children.

Leadership is the theme for World AIDS Day 2007 and 2008, promoted with the campaigning slogan, “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.”

Leadership encourages leaders at all levels to stop AIDS. Building on the 2006 theme of accountability, leadership highlights the discrepancy between the commitments that have been made to halt the spread of AIDS, and actions taken to follow them through. Leadership empowers everyone – individuals, organisations, governments – to lead in the response to AIDS.

In 2007, people around the world were encouraged to take the lead to stop AIDS. Campaigns took the shape of marches, leadership discussions, public awareness events and pledges from leaders. These events all helped to put leadership in the spotlight.

People have offered their leadership – now it is time to deliver. Promises must be kept, and people must feel empowered to act.

Why is 2008 important?

2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Since 1988, the face and response to AIDS has greatly changed. While many of these changes are positive, this anniversary offers us an opportunity to highlight how much more still needs to be done.

For example:

  • Leaders in most countries from around the world now acknowledge the threat of AIDS, and many have committed to do something about it. As of 2007, nearly all countries have national policies on HIV. However, despite these policies, most have not been fully implemented and many lack funding allocations.
  • While treatment for HIV and AIDS has improved and become more widespread since 1988, many still do not have access to it – in 2007 only 31% of those in low- to middle-income countries who need treatment received it.
  • Despite HIV awareness now reaching nearly all areas of the globe, infection rates are still happening 2.7 times faster than the increase in number of people receiving treatment.
  • While the number of countries protecting people living with HIV continue to increase, one third of countries still lack legal protections and stigma and discrimination continues to be a major threat to universal access.
  • More broadly, real action on HIV and AIDS and human rights remains lacking. Legal barriers to HIV services still exist for groups such as women, adolescents, sex workers, people who use drugs, and men having sex with men, and programmatic responses promoting HIV-related human rights have yet to be prioritised.

World AIDS Day began in 1988 when health ministers from around the world met and agreed on the concept of the day as an opportunity for all of us to come together to demonstrate the importance of AIDS and show solidarity for the cause. In 2008, this underlining principle of solidarity and awareness remains the same.

We have only two years to go for “the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010”[1].”

To achieve this goal, leadership and action is needed now. Governments must deliver on the promises they have made. Communities must encourage leadership of its members. Individuals must feel empowered to access treatment, to know their rights and take action against stigma and discrimination, and to know and use methods of prevention against receiving and transmitting HIV.

Now, more than ever is the time to lead – empower – deliver.

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