Stigma hinders Kenya Aids fight

2006-12-04 08:52
Nairobi - Three-year-old Ibraham Akinyi pushes a toy car made of scrap metal across a makeshift wooden table, oblivious to the horrors that befell his mother, Beatrice, after his father's death from Aids in 2003.

"Two days after my husband's funeral, a group of his relatives, including his father, came to my house and forced their way inside, pretending to be drunk," the HIV-positive mother-of-two recalls as she sits in her one-room, mud-walled home in Kibera, sub-Saharan Africa's largest slum.

"They told me, 'Get out and go, take the kids.' They said not to pack anything, it all belonged to them and then tore the whole house down because they blamed me for his death," said Akinyi, 29, who suspects her philandering husband became infected by one of his many girlfriends.

Akinyi was diagnosed in 2003 during her pregnancy with Ibraham, who narrowly escaped infection after a course of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment. But her firstborn son, Clinton, nine, was not as fortunate and has tested positive.

Awareness campaigns succeeded

The single mother is one of the 1.3 million people - in this country of about 35 million - currently living with HIV/Aids in Kenya, 65% of whom are women between the ages of 19 and 45, according to National Aids Control Council statistics.

Since 1984, at least 1.5 million people are said to have died from Aids in Kenya, according to health ministry estimates.

Awareness campaigns have succeeded in reducing Kenya's HIV/Aids prevalence rate to six percent in 2006 from 10% in the late 1990s, with condom use rising and a decline in the average number of sexual partners, according to a UN report.

But HIV-positive Kenyans, like Akinyi, are often stigmatised by strangers and family alike who remain ignorant about the transmission and symptoms of the disease.

Since relocating after her husband's death to the capital from her hometown of Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, Akinyi has taken care not to let on she is infected with the virus, fearing similar reprisals from her neighbours.

"I can't tell anyone because I fear for my children and how they would be treated by others," Akinyi said. "My neighbours are already suspicious and are wary of me."


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