• Saturday, 22 June 2024
KDF tested me without my consent and then kicked me out because I was HIV positive.

KDF tested me without my consent and then kicked me out because I was HIV positive.

In December of last year, a 23-year-old National Youth Service (NYS) graduate was overjoyed to learn that he would be joining the Kenya Defence Forces for the first time (KDF).

According to the recruitment letter, he was supposed to report to the Recruits Training School in Eldoret on December 25, last year.

He considered himself extremely fortunate, given that thousands of people had applied for the job at the NYS headquarters in Ruaraka, Nairobi, on November 26, but only a few had been chosen.

"I made the list of 500 new recruits out of 35,000," Emmanuel Otieno* recalls.

"I am pleased to inform you that you were successful in your interview for general duty recruitment into the Kenya Defence Forces." "As a result, you must report to the Recruit Training School (RTS), Eldoret, no later than 0800 hrs (8 am) for further examinations and training to begin," his official admission letter states in part.

lifted his spirits
Given that he had just lost his older brother the previous month, the good news lifted his spirits.

"I am the second child in a family of ten children and four mothers." "In October 2021, we lost our elder brother, a nurse, in a tragic boat accident on Lake Victoria," he recalls.

He called his father that evening after learning of his acceptance to the KDF training school.

"The news gave him and his family new hope." In fact, I returned home the next day, a Saturday, because the entire family was expected to attend a thanksgiving ceremony in church the next day," he recounts.

New medical procedures
"When I arrived at the military training school in Eldoret, we were subjected to new medical procedures." "Everything went well, and I was assigned platoon number 58 in addition to being sent to Simba Division houses," he says.

His journey to becoming a KDF officer, however, was cut short.

Emmanuel reveals that, prior to the official start of military training on January 3, this year, during the usual morning parades, the names of people with "medical issues" and "academic issues" were publicly called out.

"I was surprised to hear my name read out among the approximately 300 people." To my surprise and disbelief, we were ordered to return our letters as well as all military gear and equipment. "We were then given Sh1,000 each for bus fare and told to return to our homes," Emmanuel says.

He was taken aback.

"I approached one of the medical officers and demanded to know why I was being sent away after testing positive for HIV." My problem was described as medical.' The medical officer revealed that they had decided to fire me because I tested positive for HIV. "They took blood samples from me during their mandatory medical tests' without informing me that they were testing for HIV." "I never consented to an HIV test," Emmanuel says.

He couldn't figure out why other tests, both in the field during recruitment and at the training school, didn't show his status as positive.

He couldn't figure out why other tests, both in the field during recruitment and at the training school, didn't show his status as positive.

"I refused to surrender my documents." Even if it were true, HIV is not a fatal disease and cannot interfere with my training because I am very fit. "They were adamant that I be sent away," he recalls.

His main concern now is how to provide for the larger family.

"Finding a job when you have HIV is nearly impossible, especially when employers subject job applicants to medical tests and discuss the test results even before disclosing them to the people who took those tests," Emmanuel says, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Everyone in my family looks up to me. What should I tell them now that I haven't returned home?" He asks thoughtfully.

Start taking antiretrovirals.
"I did another test on my own and it confirmed my HIV status." I was prescribed antiretroviral drugs, which I have been taking religiously ever since."

Mr. Otieno claims that his pleas to be allowed back into the KDF training school have gone unanswered.

"Most of my teammates have already graduated and are serving the country." "I'd like to be given the opportunity to go back and finish my training and be deployed like the others because HIV is a condition that anyone can live with as long as they take medication, which I have been doing," he says.

In an interview with the media, constitutional lawyer Dan Okemwa stated that it is illegal under the law to terminate an employee's contract due to his or her HIV status.

"It is an invasion of privacy and confidentiality for an employer to test an employee for HIV without the employee's knowledge or consent." It is against the law for a doctor to reveal a patient's medical status to their employer. Furthermore, an employee cannot be deemed medically unfit solely based on his or her HIV status. "There must be proof of the employee's inability to work as a result of the illness," he explained.

Mr. Okemwa is supported by Ms. Stephanie Musho, a human rights lawyer and sexual reproductive health expert.

According to her, Article 27 (4) of the constitution prohibits the state from discriminating against any person on any grounds, including their health status.

Specifically in the workplace
"He was essentially in the ministry's employment by virtue of having an admission letter, being in legal possession of a government-issued uniform, and having already reported for training," she says.

"By denying him the job based on his HIV status, the Ministry of Defence broke the law and must be held accountable," Ms. Musho continues.

She goes on to say that Article 31 of the Constitution guarantees everyone's right to privacy.

"By testing his blood samples for HIV without his knowledge or consent, the ministry violated his right under the highest law in the land." Not only is it illegal, but it is also unethical."

Procedures and standards
Responding by phone to questions raised by the Nation, Major Jacob Mantai, whom Mr. Otieno claims were his recruitment officer, stated that RTS has its own standards and procedures.

"There is some information I cannot give you. However, you may contact the Department of Defense."

In an official email response, the Ministry of Defence promised to review the situation and respond.

Kenya has a legal and policy framework in place, supported by organizations like the National Aids Control Council and the National Council on Population and Development, to ensure the country has progressive HIV response and prevention protocols.

OTIENO IS NOT HIS REAL NAME THOUGH...Thank you for reading with me


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