Meet HAPA Kenya
Since Kenya first declared AIDs a national pandemic in 1998 a lot has happened in the fight against the virus. Key among them is that HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence it once was and today people living with AIDS can live long and healthy lives.
A lot, however, still remains to be done to win this fight and ordinary folks and organizations are leading the fight from the front. One such invaluable player is HIV/AIDS People Alliance of Kenya (HAPA Kenya).
Erotic Africa reached out to them to understand more about their mandate, story and how they are fighting back against Covid-19 and other societal ills to stay afloat and continue advocating for Kenyans living positively. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.
Since the HIV/AIDS People Alliance of Kenya (HAPA Kenya) was registered in 2011, how has the journey been like and what are some of your milestones?
The journey for HAPA KENYA since its registration in 2011 has been tremendous. Initially founded as a support group for MSM PLHIV (Persons Living with HIV) we identified a gap in community friendly service delivery for the community. During that time, stigma and discrimination was at its peek due to limited information and suitable approaches that would enable community member to seek services.
The HIV/AIDS People Alliance of Kenya (HAPA Kenya) came in to address this gap through advocating for the Health Rights of the community as well as seeking to open up a community friendly drop-in centre where friendly and quality services could be accessed. Since then we have witnessed growth and improvement. We currently have two drop in centres with functioning MFL codes in Mombasa and Taita Taveta counties reaching a wide cohort of PLHIV and the MSM & Transgender community with services including HIV testing and counselling, Psychosocial support, Support groups and general clinical consultation.
We also provide empowerment on advocacy and have successfully trained a team of 8 paralegals and 15 security response personnel. We have engaged stakeholders from the county government as well as administration police in sensitization workshop which have strengthened our engagements.
HAPA KENYA also prides itself in taking part in the repeal process representing members of the LGBT community in Coastal Kenya and still continue to be a voice in creating awareness on the importance of REPEAL 162 in collaboration with our partners including GALCK.
Do you think the fight against HIV/AIDS in Kenya is getting easier or harder and why?
HAPA KENYA believes that the fight against HIV/AIDS is one that needs to be approached with more sensitivity and seriousness. With innovation in medicine and the upcoming generation, it is still important to continue creating awareness on HIV by contextualizing the methods in innovative methods. For the Key Population, It is also necessary to pay attention to our needs. Awareness will eventually lead to understanding and only then will we be able to win the fight against HIV/AIDS.
What are some of the biggest challenges MSM/MSW community faces?
Stigma and discrimination remains a great challenge for the MSM/MSW & Transgender communities. There is need for inclusion and more sensitizations targeting stakeholders and the general community. Another challenge is the limitation of resources to aid in meeting the gaps faced by the community. For HAPA KENYA the needs of the community come first and in-order to meet these needs, we need adequate resources and support which is still limited. There is need to cover nutritional support for our cohort with relief food aid, commodities such as condoms and lubricants and strengthen economic empowerment projects to enable beneficiaries to acquire skills and resources to sustain themselves.
How has Covid-19 pandemic affected HAPA Kenya?
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept HAPA KENYA on its toes to ensure that we are still able to provide quality services to the community. Livelihoods have been affected. Dependency rates have skyrocketed and all this has affected our cohorts greatly. There is need to improve the livelihood of our beneficiaries and at the same time we are tasked with the responsibility of sensitizing our community on COVID-19 while still having to continue offering HIV related services and care, conduct follow-ups on our PLHIV cohorts as well as create awareness on Human Rights. This has increased the inter-sectionality.
People living with HIV/AIDS are especially vulnerable to Covid-19. How are you fighting back and keeping your members safe?
Our drop-in centres have undergone fumigation (though there is still need to make this regular) and we do our best to ensure that the COVID-19 restrictions are adhered to. In addition to this our outreach workers also introduced the subject of COVID-19 in their health talks to help create awareness. Our staff have also taken the COVID-19 test since we interact with a large number of clients.
What kind of support do you wish you could get from the government and county governments during this pandemic?
The National Government and County Government can support us by supplying us with Personal Prevention Equipment (PPEs) for both our clinical staff, distribute reusable masks and hand sanitizers, facilitating online sensitizing on covid-19 to create awareness on COVID-19 and address the myths and misconceptions around the pandemic through Zoom platform sensitization meetings, providing supplements to boost the immune systems for PLHIV, people with mordibility infections, distribute automatic/pedal hand wash facilities to our drop in centres and also by regularly fumigating our drop-in centres.
Any message to MSM/MSW community members who do not know where to get help?
Our message to members of the MSM/MSW and Transgender community who do not know where to get help is to reach out to us through our social media platforms; facebook: @HapaKenya001 instagram: @hapakenya001 and twitter: @HAPA_KENYA. We will be sure to respond to them and provide linkages.
HAPA KENYA cares.