Writes Key Correspondent, Patrick Mutish.
Stella Akinyi 26 (not her real name) is HIV positive, a mother of three and is currently breastfeeding her youngest child, who is one and a half.
The young mother has been struggling to overcome the pain of stigma and discrimination posed by her husband since she tested HIV positive in 2004.
Sometimes Akinyi is beaten up by her husband, denied food and her ARVS are thrown into the dust bin.
“When I disclosed my status to my husband, he took it sarcastically saying that I am lying to him and that it’s not a problem because it’s all lies which I have brought into the house. He said I am energetic and I am the only one who knows where I got the virus from and also all the news about my status is lies.
“He said the doctor’s had lied to me because they can do my test and give me another patient’s medicine. He says there is no HIV virus. Therefore he has never accepted me.”
The young mother laments that her husband always eats when she cooks but denies her from eating, saying that she is not supposed to eat because her death is due.
Adherence to medication has turned out to be extremely difficult for Akinyi because of the difficulties she is facing. She is worried that after several tests, her CD4 count is on the decline.
Akinyi is currently becoming weak. Lack of employment that can help her cater for daily need make her cry bitterly. She tries to hold her tears back as she narrates her story. Her child, on seeing her cry, begins crying too.
“The situation which we are living in at home is full of problems because even when I pick up my medicine box to take my ARVs, my husband can snatch it and throw them away. So right now its survival of the fittest” Akinyi says. “He says that a person with HIV can’t live under his roof. This is the greatest challenge I am facing. He doesn’t want me to take the medicine, saying an HIV positive person can’t live in his house and he knows that I will die by tomorrow.”
According to Kenya’s Ministry of Health, there are 1.4 million people living with HIV in Kenya. The HIV epidemic affects Kenyan women more severely than Kenyan men. Young women aged 15- 24 years are 5.5 times more likely to become infected with HIV than those of the same age group and among those already infected, 3 out of every 5 are female.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the virus and to seek treatment if they do.
“It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking out about it or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is the chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world,” he adds.
Ki Moon says Stigma not only makes it more difficult for people trying to come to terms with HIV and manage their illness on a personal level, but it also interferes with attempts to fight the AIDS epidemic as a whole.
Duncan Berkebo, a clinician in HIV care and treatment at the Liverpool VCT says the society should be taught about the modes of transmission of HIV and AIDS for them to stop stigmatizing and discriminating those with HIV and understand that everyone is either affected or infected by HIV.