Ishtar: Providing Stigma-Free Sexual Health Services in Kenya

By Greg Tartaglione, Sr. Communications Officer

NBC OUT recently featured an important article about Peter Njane of Ishtar, a long-standing partner of MSMGF based in Nairobi. Ishtar is a community health care clinic that aims to provide quality services to men who have sex with men and transgender women in Kenya who often face unique barriers in access to care. In a country where homosexuality is still criminalized, Njane is leading the fight against HIV by creating an environment that is free of stigma and discrimination for those seeking information about their sexual health.

“Everyone is from the community — from the receptionist, the nurse, even the health care provider,” Njane said. “We were happy that we were the first community health clinic that gave services run by the community and for the community”

Since Njane began volunteering with Ishtar in 2003, the organization has grown significantly and has provided services including HIV testing, sexual health education, screening and treatment of STIs, and counseling support to over 4000 members.

“People are comfortable [coming to us], because the things they are going through are the same things we are going through,” Njane said. “We understand their issues.”

In October of 2016, MSMGF partnered with Ishtar as well as LeGaBiBo (Botswana) and Lighthouse (Vietnam) to develop Action for Access!,  a research project that aims to investigate barriers in access to services for trans women and men who have sex with men. Jeffrey Walimbwa of Ishtar has been an important champion of including community members in every step of this research project which aims to build evidence to support the need for population-specific programing.

Ishtar still faces many unique challenges in their mission to provide services to men who have sex with men. Among these challenges are acquiring adequate funding for their work, engaging with a constantly shifting political climate, and ensuring trust between private hospitals and patients who are afraid of the possibility of discrimination.

Njane said for the past five years Ishtar has had a good working relationship with the Kenyan government, but points to neighboring Tanzania, where he says health care clinics for MSM and other LGBTQ programming have been shut down after the past election.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Njane said. “But I think for Kenya, I’m looking for a brighter future for the community. We have people who are courageous enough to speak for the [LGBTQ] community and stand by it. And people respect that.”

Read the full article here

About MSMGF:
MSMGF is an expanding network of advocates and other experts in sexual health, LGBT/human rights, research, and policy, working to ensure an effective response to HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men. We are directly linked with more than 120 community-based organizations, across 62 countries.