|Praxides and her husband managed to avoid transferring the virus to their son
I am 23 years old. I come from Bungoma District in western Kenya.
In 1999, my father was murdered in a dispute with neighbours over some land he had bought. They left his body by the side of the road. In the same year my mother became bed-ridden and then she passed away. Our aunts and uncles used to say that the neighbours had bewitched her, we just assumed this was true. That is how we thought back then, and there was no treatment for this bewitchment. We used to take her to the nearest dispensary, and they would treat her for minor ailments. We also took her to the traditional healer, who would remove some charms from her and give her some concoctions, but we could not see any improvements. In the end, she passed away. When I came to realise my own status I began to understand the root cause of her death.
When I was 14, I was sent home from school sick. When I reached home, I developed an acute headache and then I was hospitalised. There they discovered some symptoms of meningitis. I was in hospital for one full week, and recovered from the meningitis. But they also told me I was HIV positive. I was so depressed, I couldn't imagine where it had come from because I was so innocent. I used to think anybody who could test positive must have acquired it through promiscuity.
I was staying with my sister, but when I tested HIV positive, she thought it would harm the family and so she sent me away. When I very first got the news, she was a bit supportive. But then she started to tell me not to touch her children, not even to share the table with them, or to wash next to them. Due to the stigma she told me to leave her home, which was around 4km away from where I live now.
I nearly dropped out of school because it made me so depressed. I felt I could not mix with my fellow students. I stayed away from school for a full month. At that time, everyone saw HIV as a curse, or as witchcraft, or as something caught by people who were promiscuous or drunkards.
During those days I remember only one man who died in Mombassa, and when he was brought home to Bungoma nobody would view the corpse or touch him because they thought they would catch the virus from him. He was just wrapped in a polystyrene bag, even his family would not view his body. You would hear rumours saying he died of Aids and others would say he was bewitched. There were so many rumours.
After my discharge from hospital I went to enrol at the Clients of Comprehensive Care Clinic (an HIV testing and treatment clinic). I was so frightened. One of the other clients was giving a testimony about his status and was telling us not to be ashamed. He seemed so strong, but I wondered if he'd been paid by the clinic to convince people to take their services. He was giving another talk the second time I went back. I concentrated and was convinced a little bit.
When I started to go to the clinic I used to worry so much about how many people were seeing me and wondering how I acquired the virus and actually it was so frightening and embarrassing. On my third visit to the clinic I met a girl my age who was receiving treatment and we became friends. She had been 'on care' for three years and was healthy and strong, so she gave me hope. She made me emotionally stable and able to see that life can go on. We are still friends and in the same support group. She introduced me to a community activator for ACE Kenya who visited the community support group. They offer psycho-social support and counselling, and assess the needs of the clients.
We call people who are receiving treatment clients - this carries some regard. We think this person is not sick, but is a client of Comprehensive Care. This is much more empowering than calling them a patient.
Now I work with ACE Africa. They empowered me with a lot of knowledge about risk reduction, stigma adaption and positive living. We encourage all people to know their status so they can take action earlier.
I have a son. He is now four-and-a-half. His name is Eugene. His father is someone from the support group. We met in the psycho-social support group. We knew exactly how to avoid transferring the virus, so our son is negative. We both work with young people to pass our experiences on, encouraging them to get tested. It is very important for them to get tested.
It is necessary to get tested because they may seem healthy, but if they are positive they can infect their partners and their children. They can also re-infect themselves by sleeping with other positive people. You see, there are different types of HIV and you do not want to mix these different types of the virus.
Now that my family can see that I can live healthily, they have started to regard me well. Even my sister who threw me out now sees that she can take me back into her life. She pays me visits and I pay her visits. Back then she said she didn't want to take her money and bury it in a grave, because at that time she was supporting my studies.