“Learning that you are HIV positive can be one of the most difficult experiences in life. You may feel scared, sad or even angry. This is okay and a completely natural part of coping up with something that can be life changing.”
These are words echoed by Esther Wanjiku (not her real name) at Kiambu Level 5 hospital during her monthly Preventive Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) clinic.
For Wanjiku who has been living with HIV for over 7 years, testing positive should not stop women from living a long, happy and fulfilling life. She noted that with the right treatment and support, it is possible to live as long as an average person and be able to deliver as well as bring up HIV negative children.
The journey of having to swallow a pill every day of her life came as a shock, she felt like her whole world had been shuttered, “Ican’t say I was delighted when I was diagnosed with HIV, but wasn’ttotally freaked out,”Wanjiku stated.
I sat with Wanjiku on the hard hospital bench listening to her narrative that touched my life in a way that I realized not everyone you meet in your line of work deserves a chance in your love life without the knowledge of what they are adding to your growth.
“I met Martin Wanjohi, my now happily married husband while in high school.We became close and our friendship grew with the knowledge we shared outside classes during our school holiday,”Wanjiku narrated.
“We became close over our ups and downs in our lives beyond high school. WhenWanjohi joined camps, he gave me the assurance that he is going to remain loyal to me. To him I was a whole universe with all the necessities he wanted to enjoy his love life,” the mother of one stated.
When she completed her form four exams, Wanjiku excelled with flying colors that won her a chance to pursue law at the university. Thepoverty state of her family who used to hustle hard to let ends meet for her other siblings could not allow her to enroll for the course. Her mother advised her to pursue hair dressing so as to enable her tend for her personal needs without having to strip low to be helped.
“There is this guy that I met during my line of training as a hair dresser. We fell in love. Everything happened so fast that I cannot vividly account for the results of my action and the decisions I made,” Wanjiku stated.
“Time flied so fast. Our relationship grew so fast. Wanjohi became a past tense since his presence wasn’t an assured thing. However, we used to communicate on phone calls. I fell in love with my new catch and we began an intimate relationship,”Wanjiku said.
According to Wanjiku, at this point of her life, this is where most individuals fail. They trust so much and easily yet end up being affected. In her case, everything went on so fast that what was not disclosed when all this began was her mate’s status.
“He looked all elegant and attractive. His beauty was beyond measure. He was a gentleman, cared more and above all tendered for my needs anytime l told him I have seen something attractive on the market that would like to own,”She observed
Wanjiku fell for the materialistic stuff she used to receive. Little did she know that she had fallen for a lifeworth swallowing a pill for a bitter tomorrow. Her new catch was HIV positive and chose not to tell her. She lingered in this enjoyable lifestyle that later cost her healthy status.
“I asked about his status and he lied and I believed him and never held my stand firm that we should use protection. There is this moment I took him to my parents and told my parents I wanted to tie a knot with him, however my mother disapproved the affair because she believed that Wanjohi had genuine love for me,” she stated.
Wanjiku continued sharing moments with his new catch without the knowledge of consequences. This however did not last. She woke up one Saturday morning to a block on all social platforms. The blocking came a night after she had told him she was expectant.
She was left all alone; pregnant and feeling betrayed. She felt deceived, cheated and treated with contempt. Her only wrong doing? She loved too much. She chose to hide from Wanjohi, because she didn’t know what to tell him when he comes back for the holidays. Her pregnancy journey was full of emotional damage inflicted on her by the departure of his new catch. She carried bitterness and self-hatred whenever she thought about the lone life ahead of her and her unborn child.
“When I reached 4 months, I went for antenatal clinics. As you know the procedures, they have to test every possibility of having a condition that might harm my child or me. When the doctor walked on every result pleased me except the HIV/AIDs status. I tested positive for HIV,” Wanjiku stated with tears dampening the corners of her eyes.
“This was the only scenario in life I felt like not talking to anyone until I come to terms with it. I was only 21 years old then. I did a lot of grieving, lost most of my friends and even close relatives. It was not easy, every moment of my life unfolding seemed darker,” Wanjiku stated.
Wanjiku further noted that her better lifestyle and health is all because she had supportive doctors. The voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) attendant took her through all the prescription and encouraged her to live for her unborn child. It wasn’t easy as it sounds in writing but she acknowledged the fact that she made the right decision.
“I was then put on the medication because my initial CD4 count had gone low. The regime was tolerable with my body and up to now I can gladly say that I am a normal woman who does everything with caution,” Wanjiku stated.
Through the guidance of her PMTCT nurse, Wanjiku went through successful delivery. Her daughter, who is now 4 years old, was introduced to Neuvirapine and Zidovidine syrup at birth. At 6 months, her daughter was introduced to septrin syrup too with her status tasted at 6 weeks, 1 year and two years. The good news that changed her life is that her daughters status turnednegative making her have hope of living for a better tomorrow.
How she hooked up with Wanjohi, first love and got married through a beautiful wedding that was crowned by a crowd of people is a story for another day. “But all I can say is that at least he was the first person who accepted and showed me love with my daughter despite how disloyal I had been to him,” Wanjiku stated.
“I don’t like talking about how I was infected every time I encounter people who want to know how I managed to hold on so strong because all this tale ends up sounding like a bit of a soap opera. I fancy being open about life with HIV to help other women who are still living in denial change their perception and stand up for their unborn children,” she reiterated.
Wanjiku has remained to be a HIV warrior in her Githunguri constituency. Wherever she meets a recently diagnosed young woman, all she does is encourage them on the need to take the precautions given to them seriously.
“I normally tell them that HIV does not waste away their lives in any way. It’s just but a life altering and life limiting condition because with the right medication, one can live a healthy life,” she observed.
Wanjiku is one among the 22 million Kenyans living with HIV, but have chosen to keep their hope alive amidst the daily stigmatization.
According to the research done by the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (1999), HIV continues to be a major public health challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 22 million people are living with HIV. In a population of 40 million in Kenya, 1.6 million people of ages were living with HIV in 2012 and an estimated 98,000 of those had acquired HIV infection with the preceding years making Kenya’s HIV epidemic the third worldwide alongside Tanzania with 1.6 million people living with HIV in 2018.
Due to the high number of infections, the National AIDS control council (NACC) CEO Dr. NdukuKilonzo advocated for a global renewed and committed support for people living with HIV and AIDS and remembrance of those who have died from AIDS related illness.
Speaking duringa training on sustainable health financing and governance held in Naivasha in 2020, CEO Nduku stated that Kiambu County had made significant progress that contributed to the reduction of HIV infections in the country.
According to the report published by NACC in 2020, Kiambu County is piloting awareness Initiative Spread Through Enterprise Network (LISTEN), model that seeks to achieve great impact, sustain gains made and address challenges in HIV response by providing data-driven decision making and strategically maximizing existing resources already available.
CEO Nduku stated that addressing these challenges will provide opportunities in achieving the universal health coverage through the LISTEN model that will safeguard the gains made in HIV response, thus making the society a safe place for people like Wanjiku to live.