BHESP BLOGS

Mercy Mutonyi is a champion of HIV prevention programming for female sex workers and vulnerable young women at Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Program. A current AVAC advocacy fellow, Mercy has years of experience working for and with female sex workers and vulnerable women in Kenya.

At IAS 2019, she took over the UNICEF HIV Twitter account and spoke at a panel on gender transformative approaches for the HIV response. Here, she discusses key messages for from this year’s conference.

What do you think are the biggest lessons coming out of IAS 2019 for programmes and policy makers?


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A constricted path, iron sheet houses, roadside food vendors are the site that greets you when you visit Kiambiu slums that borders Eastleigh suburb in Nairobi.

“Welcome to Kiambiu,” says 42-year-old Jane*, dressed in a black jacket with a smiley face, as she ushers me into her single room.

Jane, who is a peer educator at Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme {BHESP}, started sex work back in 1995 in order to make ends meet.

“Life was not a walk in the park especially in slums so I had no choice but to venture into sex work at least to put food on the table,” explains the mother of four.

Jane reckons that during her early days in sex work majority of her peers were not well conversant with HIV prevention interventions consequently many including her were infected with HIV as in Kenya sex workers have the highest HIV prevalence of 29% among the key populations.


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Dressed in a short black dress, her bag resting in her shoulder, Monicah*, 24, climbs the stairways to the fourth floor of Royal Plaza Building where BHESP Drop-In Centre is located in Roysambu, Nairobi.

“I am rushing to attend the Movie Friday as it provides an opportunity for me to learn about HIV prevention interventions and also get to share experiences with my peers,” she says while feeling breathless as she ushers into BHESP’s safe space.

Movie Friday is a day set aside for clients taking Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to come to BHESP’s safe space and watch educational movies, share their experiences and challenges while using PrEP, which when taken consistently has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%.


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Girls and young women account for 67 percent of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.

Through the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, which is funded by PEPFAR and managed by JSI, the Bar Hostess Empowerment & Support Programme (BHESP) helps vulnerable adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in Kenya to protect themselves from HIV infection, including through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

PrEP is a daily dose of antiretroviral medication and is demonstrated to be up to 99 percent effective (depending on risk and adherence) for preventing HIV infection. Best of all, girls can self-administer it.


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Being the first born in a family of six children meant I had to take care of all the responsibilities. When I was only 15 years old, I travelled from Western Kenya to Nairobi, in order to secure a job. Back then, we all believed that Nairobi was full of money and opportunities. I had to go, since in our village it is believed that once you reach adolescent, you are ready to get married.


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