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  WINDY CITY TIMES

HEAL-good organization for Kenyans
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Paul Marinkovich
2009-04-15

This article shared 2288 times since Wed Apr 15, 2009
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Health and Empowerment for African Lives ( HEAL ) , an affiliate of the UIC School of Public Health, will be hosting a fundraiser Friday, April 17, at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, to raise money for their HIV charity work in Western Kenya.

HEAL was developed by Dr. Robert C. Bailey, Professor of Epidemiology at the UIC School of Public Health, to provide assistance and support for people living with HIV in Kisumu, Kenya.

"Dr. Bailey had a theory back in 2006, that circumcision would reduce the transmission of HIV," said Craig A. Hyland, Assistant Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the UIC School of Public Health. "So he set up a clinic in Kisumu, Kenya and enrolled 2,800 men in a study. He very quickly found that the intervention was successful: circumcision really did reduce the transmission of HIV."

According to Hyland, Bailey also found that these people in the community did not have the resources to live meaningful lives. In response, HEAL created several programs to help assist these people and generate income.

"They've been really focusing on the local level," said Hyland. "Whenever someone needs extra funds to start a business, they provide loans or donations to the person. They have helped many people by donating livestock, chickens, or even just eggs, so that they can go and raise them themselves."

But a growing part of the program has been supporting men who have sex with men ( MSM ) . In Kenya, homosexuality is illegal, so MSM tend to stay underground and avoid getting tested and treated for HIV.

"MSM are highly stigmatized," said Dr. Robert C. Bailey. "They really have trouble accessing services, so they have a lot of special reproductive health needs. They don't dare go to clinicians or counselors; they don't dare get HIV tested, because they would have to disclose their sexual practices. We have a very active support group; we've identified about 200 MSM in the community and we know there may be more. So we are providing a safe haven for them to meet and support one another and we are raising funds to train clinicians to provide MSM friendly services. That way, people will not have the fear of going and getting their health needs met."

Currently, the MSM-friendly work that HEAL provides the community is underground. But one of the support group's main goals would be to develop a training program that would essentially raise awareness and tolerance within the overall population of Kenya. The police have been known to use the law as a way to bribe MSM and sometimes even beat outed homosexuals. One of the challenges that HEAL must face in the future of the MSM project, is to find a way to provide a safe environment for these people to meet.

"We have to be very careful and it is a very big concern," said Bailey. "So far there haven't been any adverse repercussions; the men do meet every week and it is very well known around the area. One thing they're talking about doing is, instead of meeting at one place every time, to actually meet in different neighborhoods and to have smaller meetings so that it is not so obvious that they are meeting."

Things are changing, Bailey explained, slowly but surely. HEAL has already started working with the provincial medical establishment enabling much more awareness of the special needs for this population. But the training of these clinicians and the counselors is going to take some funding and the money that is raised for HEAL will go towards these MSM friendly services and support groups.

"I really enjoy working with people with HIV in Kenya," said Bailey. "In this area where we work, 25-30 percent of adults are infected, so it is having a huge adverse impact on people's lives. The great thing about Kenya is that you can make a huge impact for relatively little money. So we can really leverage donations—fairly modest donations—from here and really impact people's lives."

The HEAL fundraiser will be held Friday, April 17, at the glass bar at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, 5-8 p.m. A $25 donation will include two drink tickets.


This article shared 2288 times since Wed Apr 15, 2009
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