“I used to interact with my classmates smoothly, we could play, laugh and encourage each other only to wake up one day and find my friends attitude towards me had changed. Thy walk away and keep off only to realize they had been warned by the school principal against associating with me because I was HIV/Aids positive,” The heaviness in his narration explains this difficult journey that the 22 year old man we shall call Brian Mwangi has had to endure.
Mwangi was a happy students when he joined the school in Lanet on the outskirts of Nakuru town.
Disclosure of his status by a teacher was life changing. He could no longer associate with his classmates as he used to. They discriminated him and could not allow him share their items like basins, spoons and plates. They believed he could infect them with the virus.
He recalls a Saturday afternoon guidance and counselling session as if it just happened. The teacher took it upon himself to ‘warn’ other students against associating with Mwangi claiming he could easily infect them with the virus that was considered as a ‘bad omen’.
There were three students who were living positive at the school.
“Why would a teacher openly share my HIV status? I dropped into tears, life seemed to have lost a meaning. I felt like nobody cared for me, ” HE recalls holding BACK HIS tears.
Unable to renoncile the events, he dropped out of school. The school principal later apologized but Mwangi is still deeply hurt.
“The teacher made life so hard for me, students called me names and they isolated me openly, an issue that affected my studies”
Mwangi’s journey with HIV is a story that is rarely told. He was a care taker in 2004 nurturing his mother who was living with the virus. He assisted in caring for his little brother who had the virus as well.
He was young and giving his best in caring for them. He did not know that HIV could be transmitted by through bodily fluids. Experts caution caretakers to wear latex gloves if they may come to contact with blood or bodily fluids of a person who has HIV.
If a caretaker has any cuts, sores or breaks on the skin, they are required to cover them. Mwangi was oblivious. All he wanted was for his mother and sibling to get better.
In 2008, the news that he was HIV positive broke his heart. He went through a phase of denial.
Note to self; You fight stigma when you speak up against discrimination of people living with HIV
Mwangi Flips a New Page
Being the first born in a family of three siblings, he was forced to take charge. After numerous counselling sessions, Mwangi accepted his condition and was immediately put on antiviral drugs to boost his immunity,
He is now living a normal life and he is a youth leader at Love and Hope Center (a Catholic based organization that gives hope to people living positively.
Kelin, a human rights NGO working to protect HIV related human rights in Kenya said there is need for county governments and health officials to collaborate with all stakeholders in creating an enabling environment for people living with HIV.
Kelin representative Lucy Ghati says, “It is unfortunate that despite establishment of HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Act 2006 that prohibits the disclosure of individual’s living with the virus, we still have people who are ignorant.
“I feel for the young man who was subjected to discrimination and stigma from his peers at his teenagehood. It is wrong and the society should be warned against sharing the status of any individual, ” said Ghati noting that Kelin has presented several cases in courts on the same.
She observed that ministry health in collaboration with various health stakeholders should create a framework that involves representatives from county governments, law enforcement officers, judicial officers, lawyers, healthcare workers, community representatives, civil society actors, religious leaders, PLHIV and members of key and affected population so as to scale up the services.
“Rights of people living with HIV are often violated because of their presumed or unknown HIV status causing them to suffer both burden of the disease and the consequential loss of other rights that should be addressed by relevant authorities, ” says Ghati.
A national study conducted by KELIN in 2012 revealed that people living with HIV face high levels of human rights violation.
Most of the violations take place in the family set up, followed by the workplace setting. Healthcare institutions too were found to be violating the rights of the people who needed their services.
While Mwangi rises from the nasty experience, the question still linegrs. How many more Kenyans living with HIV have their status disclosed against their will? Why does stigma keep stalking the campaign against HIV?