This interview with Alice Mwangi, a beauty therapist from Yamumbi, Kenya, is part of the Behind Bars series by Kevin Osborne and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
“I suffered stigma and discrimination both from my relatives and at my place of work. I was afraid of disclosing my status to my employer. I thought it may cost me my job.
People living with HIV need to have their rights like any other person; they need the right to privacy, for their status to be kept confidential.”
In August 2006 Alice Mwangi filed a case. She had gone for a routine appointment at an antenatal clinic when she was tested for HIV without her consent. The test was followed by the unauthorized disclosure of her positive HIV status to her family members.
“I suffered stigma and discrimination both from my relatives and at my place of work. I was afraid of disclosing my status to my employer and their reaction to the news. I thought it may cost me my job and this would make my life more miserable.
Later I went for a tooth extraction and my father shouted to the dentist that I ‘had AIDS’. The dentist then refused to provide dental services. It was difficult for me and I had to find an alternative dentist.
In Kenya HIV transmission is described as a criminal act in the HIV Act. If a person who knows his or her status infects another person willingly or intentionally, they can be charged in a court of law.
The impact of the criminalisation of HIV transmission has made me think about my own sexual behaviour and about protecting my partner and about discussing my partner’s own HIV status. It has made me develop a positive attitude towards people living with HIV. It has also made me think about confidentiality – after all, no one wants his or her status shared without her consent.
People living with HIV need to have their rights like any other person; they need the right to privacy, for their status to be kept confidential and rights to non discrimination, to liberty and freedom of movement in terms of being protected against imprisonment, segregation or isolation in a special hospital ward. They need their right education and information: their right to access to all HIV prevention education and information, especially sexual reproductive information.
Do I think people living with HIV should disclose their HIV status before every sexual encounter? That depends on the person whom they want to disclose to, and whether this person will give support. At the same time they should insist on protection.
We should all be responsible for preventing the transmission of HIV, not only the people who are infected. HIV prevention should be comprehensive, making use of all approaches known to be effective.
Laws addressing issues on HIV transmission should be reinforced to curb the rapidly increasing number of HIV infections but, at the same time, it should not be used to victimize the people who are already positive and doing something about it to protect themselves and others. Stigma has undermined the ability of individuals’ families and society at large to protect themselves and provide support and reassurance to those affected.