By AHAOMA KANU
ON the celebration of World AIDS Day this year, among the shocking figures and information on the risk posed by the scourge on adolescent girls and expectant mothers, one revelation that sent shock waves around Africa was the announcement by Kenyan writer and winner of the 2003 Caine Prize for African, Binyavanga Wainaina, of his HIV status. Using his Facebook account, Wainaina wrote, “I am HIV positive and very happy.”
And the post went instantly viral receiving likes, reactions and responses from his friends showed support by dropping encouraging words for the acclaimed writer and activist.
Wainaina’s revelation and reception indicates the changing attitude of Africans to the HIV/ AIDS epidemic that has already killed 35 million across the world with 78 million people infected with the disease since the first case of HIV was reported. According to the United Nations, the war on HIV-AIDS is being won but not everywhere. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a speech commemorating the World AIDS Day said inasmuch as the world is making progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there seems not to be an decline in the number of new infections.
“We are winning against the AIDS epidemic, but we are not seeing progress everywhere.
The number of new HIV infections is not declining among adults, with young women particularly at risk of becoming infected with HIV. “We know that for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, the transition to adulthood is a particularly dangerous time. Young women are facing a triple threat: a high risk of HIV infection, low rates of HIV testing and poor adherence to HIV treatment,” he said.
Sidibé listed people living with HIV getting infected with Tuberculosis, cervical cancer and Hepatitis C as putting the targeted fewer HIV-AIDS related deaths to less than 500 000 at risk. In Nigeria, according to UNAIDS 2016 Gap report, an estimated 3.5 million people are living with HIV with a 3.2 per cent prevalence rate. There were 250,000 new HIV infections and 180,000 AIDS related deaths while 24 per cent adults are on anti-retroviral treatment.
Of all people living with HIV globally, nine percent live in Nigeria. The prevalence among other Sub-Saharan African countries is higher; South Africa records 19.1per cent while in Zambia the prevalence is 12.5 per cent. But due to the mega population in Nigeria, its 3.2 per cent translates to millions of people. The announcement of Wainaina disclosing his HIV positive will in a way help in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. One of the recurring problems associated with people living with HIV/AIDS is the discrimination and stigmatization.
The Caine Prize laureate’s announcement is already eliciting calls for him to help in changing the attitude the society deals with PLWHA. Nigeria Award winning writer and film producer, Biyi Bandele, urged Wainaina to use his influence and fame to help with the fight against AIDS.
“Binyavanga Wainaina, my beloved and highly esteemed friend, I’ve just learnt on Facebook that you announced yesterday via Twitter, on World AIDS Day, that you are HIV Positive. I’m shocked and I want to reach out and grab you in a hug. But I know that shock and being pitied are not what you want. I know you detest that. And I agree with you and will not greet this news with that sentimental bullshit. As you know, in the past couple of years I co-wrote and directed two seasons of the MTV Africa series SHUGA, a series which is about spreading awareness about HIV, and ending the epidemic. I’m no longer associated with SHUGA but I’d love to connect you with Staying Alive, the MTV organ that produces it.”
Bandele wrote on the writer’s Facebook. “You, Binyavanga Wainaina, are – alongside our mutual friend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – one of Time Magazine’s most influential human beings. And you are – certainly in our mother continent (which is where this matters) incredibly important. HIV is killing Africa. Can I ask you, my friend, to bring your enormous fame and experience to the fore in this war against HIV,” he said.
This is not the first time the writer, activist and in 2007 World Economic Forum “Young Global Leader” is making a bold and courageous move to bring his private life into the public space, in 2014, he came announced he was gay in an article published first on the Africa is a Country and the Chimurenga Chronic websites entitled, “I am a Homosexual Mum’, which he described as a lost chapter from his best seller “One Day I Will Write About This Place.”
His coming out of the closet made him become the first high profile African to come out openly and declare this sexual preference. His action got him praises from western countries and criticisms from his home country Kenya and equally Nigeria. Same sex relationship is outlawed in both Kenya and Nigeria. Among the people who Wainaina encouraged by his action is Osemwengie Pedro, a Nigerian gay, who had to leave the country after the Nigeria government passed a law outlawing same sex relationships in 2014. “I ran away from my country because of my orientation I’m one of the numerous person persecuted for being gay and being gay was never my making I was born and this is who am,” the 34 year old Edo State indigene said. He recalls he became aware of his sexual preference back in high school but also got to know the taboo associated with such practise in his community.
“I was introduced to gay group back in junior secondary school it was fun and we enjoyed every moment of it then but we begin the association we begin to realise it was a big taboo and our community criminalize us for it. My father stopped paying my tuition feels once our school principal informed him of my orientation with gay in the school. My mother was devastated because she has just separated from my dad. I was in the street because of this. Luckily I had a dependable friend Nelson Iyeke who took me to live with extended family member who didn’t really know what we were into as gay couple. “
“In February 2008 there was this gay party we attended and the community people called the police when we notice them arriving we all fled in different direction. Some people was able to identified me and few others who attended the party and began looking for us to append us they called my father to produced me but my father didn’t know my whereabout and he was told to inform the whenever I show up. At this point we ran to Abuja because no one knew us. But in 2014 January when the President Goodluck sign a bill into law criminalising gay people and associate with up to 14 years in jail we live every in fear.
When the Kenyan writer came out of the closet, it lifted us all to know that we are not alone,” he said. Wainaina strongly criticised Nigeria’s anti-gay law, saying it “shames us all,” Unlike his activism for the rights of LGBT which was greeted with criticisms in his home country of Kenya where President Uhuru Kenyatta bluntly told visiting President Barrack Obama that gay rights was a non-issue in his country, this latest challenge before him will certainly be welcomed and maybe Binyavanga Wainaina will be the new face for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.