I really appreciate the interventions that have been made by both the government and NGOs in Kenya to counter the spread of HIV/AIDS. Various campaigns have been held across the country whose aim is to equip people with information on infection, care and prevention of new infections. Indeed I salute these reasonable and necessary steps that have been taken to curb the pandemic.
Despite my appreciation, I happen to have a concern about HIV/AIDs that keeps stinging me like a bee whenever I observe my society.
In a remote village in Seme, in a family of five, both parents and two of their children are HIV positive.
The daughter who is ten years and HIV negative plays with two of her younger siblings who are HIV positive outside their small hut. One of them gets a cut from a razor blade and the responsible older sister sucks blood from the cut surface. What if the older sister had a cut in the mouth?
Other children from the neighborhood join the game and they continue playing with the razor blade that had cut the other child. How many children get infected in this manner especially in the village?
In another village in Bondo is a 16 year old girl, an orphan, HIV positive, in form one and staying with her grandmother. All the girl knows is that she is taking drugs because of her chest problems and the porridge flour she is being given at the hospital is to boost her immune system for those drugs she has been taking since she was young. This girl also happens to be in a relationship with the son of their neighbor.
After observing these two scenarios, I believe my fear and concern about HIV in our country today can now be understood. I understand that ethics during HIV testing and counseling demands that the client or the parent of the client, in the case of minors, has a choice to disclose or not to disclose their HIV status to whomever whenever they wish. As we protect that right, could we be putting others at risk?
I tend to believe that a number of children born with the virus could be infecting others including their own siblings unintentionally while they are playing since they are not aware of what is happening to them. Since most parents tend to keep it a top secret, the children grow into teenagers and probably since they are virgins they don’t imagine they could be having the virus. Just like the scenario in Bondo, parents still don t disclose to their HIV positive children their status and explain why they are on drugs.
The children who get infected from their fellows when young get a big shock when they finally get tested. They may not be sexually active, none of their immediate family members HIV positive nor have they been transfused with blood. They wonder how they got infected!
I chose to share this fear with Amos Onderi from KMET, the officer in charge of the program that has HIV/AIDS interventions; he shared my worry concerning this serious but not yet identified matter. To confirm my fear, he also narrated to me the story of a 10 year old girl in Bondo who was found HIV positive after being tested in school. Since she did not believe the results, she went to be tested again and the results were the same. She was in shock given that her parents and siblings were all negative. Maybe she contracted the virus after sharing a sharp object with an infected child while playing.
Amos agrees with me that we need to package our information in a palatable manner to reach the very young ones. Parents too need to accept the reality and disclose to their children their HIV status early enough to reduce the number of children and teenagers getting infected.
It is my opinion that children born with the HIV virus have a right to be told why they are on medication and how they should take care of themselves and others around them as soon as they can comprehend. I rest my case!
By Lynette Ouma