David Cairns: 1966-2011

David Cairns, Labour MP for Inverclyde, has passed away. He was only 44. He was a former VSO Parliamentarian volunteer in Kenya (2010); here is an eye-opening, heartbreaking, first-hand account of his time in Kenya.

David Cairns, Labour MP for Inverclyde, has passed away. He was only 44. David was a former VSO Parliamentarian volunteer in Kenya (2010), and chaired the All Party Parliamentary group on AIDS; below is an eye-opening, heartbreaking, first-hand account of his time in Kenya

Aminah is almost 70 yet stately in her yellow and green traditional African robe and headdress. She is an elder in her church in Kenya, and like most of her peers she is a mother and grandmother however, unlike most of them, she is HIV positive.

Frustrated at a lack of role models she took the brave step of speaking out publicly. The following day her son was fired from the job he had held for seven years. The employer knew that the son was not HIV positive, but sacked him anyway because of the shame that the mother’s confession had brought to the firm.

This sort of thing happens daily.

Despite this, it is important to hold onto the fact that Kenya has come a long way. I saw some of this progress first-hand while participating in VSO’s Parliamentarian Volunteer Scheme, hosted by a network of community groups comprised of people living with HIV/AIDS. A few years ago there were 200,000 new cases per year; that number has dropped to 70,000.

But challenges remain.

Mother-to-child-transmission of the virus has been virtually eliminated in the developed world, yet in Africa half a million babies are born HIV positive or contract it in the first year through breast-feeding. Anti-gay legislation is another obstacle, which is both a human-rights affront and a public health disaster.

Why would a gay person who may be HIV positive seek help only to run the risk of discrimination or imprisonment? I put this to Kenyan government ministers and was rewarded with a glacial silence.

The coalition should be praised for ring-fencing aid spending, but the government also needs to maintain the global leadership position through its continued support for the Global Fund. Not to would give others the excuse to reduce their own contributions.

If this happens the fight against HIV and AIDS will get a whole lot harder.

This article was originally written for VSO

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