Sunday, May 19, 2024

HIV FUNDING SCARE: Lobby up in arms as Kenyan MPs write to US Congress

At least 48 lobby groups in Kenya have petitioned the National Assembly to save the United States-funded President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding.

In a letter to Speaker Moses Wetangula, the groups petitioned the house to counter a controversial letter which they claimed threatens the gains already achieved in the fight against HIV in the country.

The groups consist of civil society organizations and community-based organizations working on HIV, health, and human rights in Kenya.

As you now seek to reauthorize PEPFAR funding, we want to express our concerns and suspicions that this funding is supporting so-called family planning and reproductive health principles and practices, including abortion, that violate our core beliefs concerning life, family, and religion

Kenyan MPs to US Conress

The petition is in response to another letter that a section of Kenyan MPs and other counterparts from the African Continent sent to the US House of Representatives and Senate on June 6, 2023, cautioning against the reauthorization of the PEPFAR funding to Kenya.

Prep drug graphic (Courtesy)

In the letter to the US Congress, the MPs expressed concerns over what they claimed was PEPFAR funding mutating from its original agenda to promoting ‘divisive ideas and practices that are not consistent with those of Africa’.

According to the legislators, PEPFAR originally aligned with African values, while focusing on protecting and preserving life and emphasizing abstinence and responsible behaviour and practices, but they claim this is no longer the case.

“As you now seek to reauthorize PEPFAR funding, we want to express our concerns and suspicions that this funding is supporting so-called family planning and reproductive health principles and practices, including abortion, that violate our core beliefs concerning life, family, and religion,” read the letter in part.

The ten Kenyan MPs who signed the letter included; Paul Katana (Kaloleni), Opondo Kaluma (Homa Bay Town), Joyce Kamene (Machakos County), Charles Nguna (Mwingi West), Caroline Ngelechi (Elgeyo/Marakwet County), Suzanne Kiamba (Makueni County), Beatrice Ogola (Nominated Senator), Farah Maalim (Dadaab), and Joseph Kahangara (Lari).

MPs spreading misinformation

But in a scathing response through their petition to the National Assembly, the lobby groups claim that the letter by the MPs was loaded with misinformation which may jeopardize the reauthorization of the PEPFAR funding program, adding that in the absence of PEPFAR, Kenya will have a major funding gap in HIV programs.

Mr Speaker, we express deep concern that our own Members of Parliament are involved in a scheme to spread misinformation about the impact, utility, and focus areas of PEPFAR funding in Kenya.

Lobby groups

Some of the programs which the fund has been supporting for the past 20 years include; access to antiretroviral treatment (ARV), Voluntary Medical Male circumcision (VMMC), HIV Testing and Counselling, and providing healthcare workers.

“Mr Speaker, we express deep concern that our own Members of Parliament are involved in a scheme to spread misinformation about the impact, utility, and focus areas of PEPFAR funding in Kenya. Their actions may result in PEPFAR funding being discontinued in Kenya, which would jeopardize the lives of over 55 million Kenyans who benefit from HIV programs supported by PEPFAR as more than 1.6 million people in the country are living with HIV,” the lobby stated in their petition.

The lobby groups castigated the MPs for what they said was choosing to spread misinformation to the US House of Representatives and Senate at the expense of Kenyans benefitting from PEPFAR funding, yet the legislators have the means to verify programs that PEPFAR has been funding in the country.

“We call upon your office and the National Assembly to ascertain the purpose and programs funded by PEPFAR in Kenya and provide information to your counterparts in the US,” the petition went on.

PEPFAR impact in Kenya

PEPFAR, a US government global effort to combat HIV, and the largest global health program devoted to a single disease is credited with saving millions of lives and helping to change the trajectory of the global HIV pandemic.

The program was initiated in 2003 during President George W. Bush’s State of the Union, and was authorized by Congress through the Leadership Act.

Since then, the US Congress has updated, extended and made changes to the program through the Lantos-Hyde Act of 2008, PEPFAR Stewardship Act of 2013, and the PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018 which is expected to come to an end this year.

The lobby groups said the program has continuously met the needs of millions of Kenyans by providing lifesaving drugs which were previously beyond reach.

“From the current funding landscape in Kenya, without PEPFAR support, millions of lives would be at risk. For instance, in 2023 Financial Year, PEPFAR plans to invest over 347 million US dollars in Kenya,” the petition stated in part.

US President Joe Biden (Courtesy)

The Congress is expected to consider authorization of PEPFAR for the fourth time when the project life ends this year, but the lobby groups are expressing fears that the letter by the MPs to the US Congress and Senate may provide a setback in its extension.

Some of the lobby groups which signed the petition included; Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK), Ringa Women Fighting Aids Group, Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN), Trust for Indigenous Culture AND Health (TICAH) and Men Living With HIV/AIDS TESO.

Others are Hope Trans Initiative, Nyabende Support Programmes CBO, WOPLAH CBO, Nyando Social justice CBO, Lean on Me Foundation, among others.

Kevine Omollo
Lake Region Bulletin is your one stop multi-media platform for news from Lake Region Counties of Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Vihiga, Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Nandi, Kericho and Bomet. Email: komollo@lakeregionbulletin.co.ke omollokevine@gmail.com

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