Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

Hope though false is worth clinging to.

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There are two two acronyms that people can not get their minds around. People automatically associate them with death. Yeah! I know many have died of HIV and AIDS related complications. Well, truth is, many have also succumbed to cancer, diabetes, and other conditions.

Other people associate HIV with a gold mine. They hear you mention these words and immediately someone wants to sell you their ‘natural cure’. I mean, if you can take ARVs for that long, you might as well be hooked on whatever other concoction they may hook you up on.

They tell you that ARVs have side effects that damage your internal organs. I am not a medic, but from the little knowledge I have, all drugs are toxic to the body. Even the supplements and herbs that we buy can be toxic to the liver.

The logic is, your life is worth investing in, right? People spend arms and legs together with whatever other extra limbs they have just to buy mortality. Fear of death is real, I dare say. The irony is, they end up buying their own death while trying to buy immortality.

Then there is the group that gets hyper religious when they hear you have the ‘plague’. People offer to pray and fast for your healing. Of course, I don’t want to come across as a faithless person. I know God heals. I am a Christian. I’ll just leave it at that, lest I say the wrong thing.

Speaking of Christians. Yes! Let’s just speak of a group of brethren. With pick up lines like ‘where do you fellowship?’ Before you know it, they want to come to your house. ‘Do you mean the flesh is still at work in you?’ they counter your argument against their ideas.

Once in your house, they just can’t keep their hands to themselves. Until you disclose to them that you are living positively with HIV.  They then go back yo their hyper spirituality, telling you to believe with them in your healing. They even abruptly turn into nutritional counselors. ‘Now you should avoid eating this and that, your diet should have this and that’. I’m like, “Get a hold of yourself, where were you all those years? I could have used your advise then”.

Then there’s the irksome type that preys on desperate, ignorant prey seeking prayer. Religion is in fact the opium of masses- Karl Marx. Promise anyone divine intervention to alleviate their impending suffering and they will give you anything. I mean, people have sold houses, vehicles even taken their hard earned life savings to these ‘men and women of God’ as seed offerings to pay for their healing.

Sadly, they did not end up so well. For some, it started with Tuberculosis, others Meningitis, while others, cancer, then eventually death.

So yeah, call me faithless, call me a skeptic, you can even call me a coward. I will run with this proverb, that he who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day.

Image credit

Book Review: We Need New Names- Noviolet Bulawayo

We need need new names

Paradise is a shanty where men’s eyes never lift from their draughts, under the jacaranda trees and women are busy with hair and talk, children on the other hand have no choice but to go steal guavas in Budapest due to their hunger.

People in Paradise once had real houses that were demolished by bulldozers, forcing them to come to shanties. The 10 year old Darling narrates how the demolishers even killed a baby in the debris.

Every chapter in Bulawayo’s book can stand as a short story, because she talks of different things related to  the desperate situation in their country- Zimbabwe.  I think the writer uses the voice of a child so as to lighten the issues she addresses.

Hunger and poverty

They live in tin houses and share the same room. Darling narrates how a strange man comes at night, sleeps with her mother and leaves while it’s still dark.

She describes the hunger they feel. It’s as if someone scooped the insides of their stomachs. They steal guavas because of the hunger, even though it makes them constipated.

Mother of Bones, Darling’s grandmother wears mismatched shoes, like a mad woman, yet she is not mad.  She has worthless money in her suitcase that she counts everyday and wonders why she cannot use it.

Children are no longer in school because the teachers left the country.

Dead foreign aid

The Chinese are building a big mall for them, yet they cannot afford to feed themselves.

The NGO people come with their lorries to give them rations of food, clothes and toys. The children as well as parents actually look forward to these moments. They pose for photos all the time, something they have rehearsed only too well.

Mass migration

People are fleeing the country to other countries where there are better prospects. They do not want to remain in  the “kaka” country.

Most men leave their wives and children behind to go work in the mines and forget them. They only come back home when they are sick and dying.

Some are fleeing from the government because they fear being killed. Governments are against democracy. It’s a form of Neocolonialism where the people of the land have turned into oppressors.

HIV/AIDS

This is refereed to as ‘the sickness’, and is something that is spoken of in whispers, showing the shame associated with it. Darling’s father returns home with the sickness and interrupts her life because she cannot play with her mates. She has to look after him and keep it a secret from everyone.

There’s a connection between Mother of bones and her referring to her ‘father’s bones’.

Religious fanaticism

Those who have sought refuge in religion are fanatics. Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro, is the religious authority who exorcises demons and extorts money from the already impoverished folk in exchange for prayers.

Darling thinks the god to whom they pray is a sadist who ignores their pleas. So the adults are just wasting their time. Only  when she gets to America, does she reach into the dustbin of her heart and retrieve God, because she has more than enough food.

Incest and abortion

Chipo is only 11, yet she is pregnant. Her grandfather raped her when her grandmother went to the market.

The girls plan to remove Chipo’s stomach, yet they are clueless. Only one of them, Forgiveness seems to have an idea. She is busy straightening a rusty clothes hunger for the task. This scene raises the hairs on my head because I am thinking what would happen if they succeed. Chipo could die because doctors are not in hospitals. They have all gone for ‘greener pastures’.

Identity crisis

Everyone wishes to go to America, yet after they stay there, they cannot return to their land due to lack of papers. Even when their parents die, they can not return to bury them and mourn behind closed doors, fearing to attract undue attention.

In America, they cannot raise their children the way they were raised because instilling discipline is considered child abuse.

Reliance on kin abroad

People back in the country rely too much on handouts from those ‘lucky enough’ to go to America. Those in America struggle to put up a show that they are prospering, working multiple jobs to send money back home. “Our parents have stopped being our providers, we are now their parents”.

The kin abroad have bought fancy houses for their folk back home, while they live in houses made of planks.

Get your copy and enjoy the humor, while you see the reality in some of our African countries.

Movie review: For Colored girls

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This movie by Tyler Perry is based on the  Obie Award-winning, dramatic prose poem- For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.

For Colored Girls is a story of seven women and the different struggles they go through. It has a feminist theme- at least that is the deduction that I drew from it.  It is a very emotive movie and you might find yourself shedding a tear or two. I did, both times I watched it.  But anyway, that depends on the person watching it.  I liked the spoken word in the dialogue, which cleverly woven to tell the stories of these women.

Each of the women have struggles related directly to men in their lives. The sub themes are:

Sex Addiction– Thandie Newton plays Alice’s Eldest daughter, Tangie, who loves sex.  She is using her body to torment men because of her inner unresolved conflicts. Double standards appear here because women are expected to handle themselves in a dignified manner. Most of the men sleeping with her equate her to a prostitute.

Abortion– Teressa Thompson, Nyla, is the young daughter who has unprotected sex on her graduation night. She is a dancer, waiting to go  into college on sponsorship. When she discovers she is pregnant, she asks for 300 dollars college application fees that she wants to to procure an abortion. Her sister Tangie, refers her to a backstreet drunkard who nearly kills her. “I couldn’t bear to let her look at me pregnant”, she says, referring to her mother.

Religion– Whoopi Goldberg takes the part of an overly religious mother of two, Alice, who in my view, is hiding from the reality of abuse from her father through religion. Unfortunately, her daughters do not turn out as she would like, one a sex addict and the other ends up having a backstreet abortion.  The irony is that she is disappointed by her daughters having sex, yet she subtly encourages the abortion. This shows a double standard in her values. “That which was growing in you was a sin, it must have been destroyed”, she tells her youngest daughter.

Rape– Anika Noni Rose, Yasmin is a dance tutor who undergoes date rape when she invites her date for dinner at her house. The police questioning makes one think that rape has to do with a woman’s suggestion. “Are you sure you didn’t do anything to suggest it?”

Domestic Violence– Kimberly Elsie, Crystal Lewis is an assistant  who is a mother of two and  lives with an abusive husband, Michael Elly, Beau. Beau is a former army man who turns to alcohol to drown his frustrations. He beats up his girlfriend and children and even ends up killing the children in a fit of jealousy.

Childlessness– Kerry Washington, is Kelly, the social worker who can’t have children because of an untreated STI. She has a supportive husband, Bill Harper, who is a police officer. She feels guilty for the death of Crystal’s children, because she could not rescue them from an abusive man.

HIV/AIDS and Infidelity– Janet Jackson plays Joanna Bradmore the role of a wife who has it all put together. The no nonsense boss who has a husband who feels he has to spend their money without her consent to feel like a man. She ends up infected with HIV because her husband is a man who loves sleeping with men.

Love and acceptance– Yuanita Sims is a memorable character. The nurse running the community center for women. Played by Loretta Devine, she portrays a woman who empowers other women, yet yearns the love of a man who throws her love in her face one too many times. A man who comes to her when he needs her and leaves when she needs him. I particularly love this poem when she decided to let go:

Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff
And didn’t care enough to send a note home saying I was late for my solo conversation
Or too sizes too small for my own tacky skirts
What can anybody do with something of a nobellier on an open market?
Did you get a dime for my things?
Hey man, where are you going with all of my stuff?
This is a woman’s tripping, I need my stuff to ooh and aaah about
Honest to God! Somebody almost ran with all of my stuff
And I didn’t bring anything but the kick and sway of it
The perfect ass for my man and none of it is theirs
This is mine…Phemelo’s own things,…
That’s my name now give me my stuff
I see you hiding my laugh and how
I sit with my leg open sometimes to get my crutch some sunglight
This is some delicate leg and whimsical kiss
I gotta have to get to my choice
So you can’t have me unless I give me away
And I was doing all that till you ran off on a good thing
And who is this you left me with? A bad attitude
I want my things, I want my Oooh with a hot iron scar,
I want my leg with the flee bite, yeah I want my things
I want my calouse feet and quick language back in my mouth
I want my own things how I love them
Somebody almost ran off with all of my stuff
And I was standing there looking at myself the whole time
It wast spirit that ran off with my stuff
It was a man who’s ego won’t drown like road ants shadow
It was a man faster than my innocence
It was a lover I made too much room for almost ran off with all of my stuff
And the one running with it, don’t know he got it
I’m shouting this is mine and he don’t , and he don’t even know he got it
My stuff is the anonymous ripped off treasure of the year
Did you know somebody almost got away with me!
Me! in a plastic bag under his arm, Me! Phemelo Motona!
Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff!

ICASA Youth Pre-Conference

The youth pre- Conference in Zimbabwe. Photo- ICASA Youth Front Facebook
The youth Pre-Conference in Zimbabwe. Photo- ICASA Youth Front Facebook

The International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is a major international AIDS conference which takes place in Africa. Its current biennial hosting alternates between Anglophone and Francophone African countries. The 2015 ICASA was held in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I did not get the opportunity to be part of the conference this year. However, due to my commitment to disseminating news surrounding HIV/AIDS and SRHR issues affecting young people, here is are the outcomes of the youth Pre-Conference.

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We young people at the ICASA YouthFront organized Pre-Conference for the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, held on the 27th and 28th of November 2015 at the Zimbali Conference Centre, in Harare, Zimbabwe, under the theme ‘Agenda 2030: Delivering for Youth in the Post 2015 Era’.

Having noted the tremendous progress in the HIV response in Africa, curtailed with notable challenges in access to comprehensive HIV and SRHR services and effects of HIV on our continent, where AIDS is now the number one cause of adolescent deaths, and disproportionately affecting our young girls and women, as the future generation and young people of Africa therefore, we commit to,

  1. Advocate for the review of punitive and conflicting laws, policies and legal frameworks that impede access to HIV and SRHR services for all – leaving no one behind – including age of consent in our respective countries,
  2. Influence governments to invest in research and development targeted at   new prevention technologies that work for adolescents and young people including Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
  3. An Africa youth task-force for prevention research and development.
  4. Influence governments to increase financing for health including increasing domestic financing for the HIV response and reproductive health commodities.
  5. Strengthen and support structures for young people living with HIV to own the HIV response.
  6. Be part of HIV and SRHR policy making processes, implementation and evaluation ensuring meaningful youth participation and accountability including in institutional processes such as the Global Fund.
  7. Lead country level actions to advocate for the delivery of Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
  8. Invest our efforts to participate in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs framework, including the commitment to End of AIDS by 2030.
  9. Increase our engagement with existing funding and program opportunities like the Global Fund, All in!, DREAMS, Every woman Every Child.
  10. To support fellow young people to dispel myths and disinformation which drive stigma and fuel discrimination. Further ensuring that the human rights and dignity of every adolescent and young person are protected, promoted and fulfilled, without distinction of any kind.
  11. Commit to increased engagement and advocacy with our governments, regional economic communities, the African Union, United Nations agencies and other civil society groups to accelerate efforts towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly targets related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, ending AIDS, investing in education. Raising awareness among policy makers and other stakeholders on the importance of the demographic dividend towards the sustainable development of Africa.

Presented on 28th November 2015 at the closing plenary of the ICASA Youth Pre-Conference.

Document source.

Charlie Sheen’s disclosure: HIV stigma is still with us

Stigma
There’s no hiding that HIV disclosure is still a hard thing, both for the Person Living With HIV and for their family. This is why when someone decides to declare their HIV status publicly, they ought to be commended.

As a person who took this difficult step years back, not because of the pat on the back, but because of dealing with self stigma, I have been keenly following the discourse about Charlie Sheen’s disclosure.

Disclosure frees one from unnecessary burdens borne due to living in the ‘HIV closet’.  The closet comes with different for everyone. For Charlie, it came with the burden of  having to pay millions to keep people from exposing his status. Other people might just want to have someone listen to them, and reassure them that it is not a life sentence. Better yet, like in my case, it was a freedom that meant I could take my medications in peace without people raising an eyebrow every time I popped the pills.

Ever since Charlie’s great revelation last week, I have read and listened to some not so pleasant comments regarding HIV. It has even been labelled the Charlie Sheen disease. First, HIV is just a condition, it does Not make someone suddenly different. He is still the same person he was even before you knew his status. There are very many people living with the virus and are ignorant of it. In 2014, there were roughly 2 million new HIV infections. Not all of these know their status.

I read an annoying tweet some two weeks before the disclosure, that a solution to global hunger had been found, so African children can live long enough to die of AIDS. Charlie’s disclosure proves that AIDS is not an African disease, rather anyone can be infected. It removes the stereotypes that have been linked to Africa, which Chimamanda terms as dangerous.

That aside, Charlie Sheen has made some not so wise choices in the past. You may hate him for that, but not about his HIV status.

Some facts about HIV

1. HIV is not transmitted through mosquito bites. It is a virus that needs the human body to survive. Once a mosquito bites someone, even if they had HIV, it dies immediately.
2. HIV is different from AIDS. HIV is just a condition that makes your body susceptible to infections when your immunity is low. AIDS is a syndrome- A mixture of opportunistic infections arising from a weakened immune system.
3. ARVs, the drugs used by People Living With HIV, are not only life prolonging. They prevent spread of the virus. That’s why there are so many children who are born HIV free, yet their mothers are HIV positive.
Once a person is on ARV treatment, chances of them transmitting the virus to other people. Ever asked yourself why there are so many discordant couples? This is not to encourage unprotected sex among discordant couples.

Well, we still need people to accept themselves and be comfortable to come out of their closet at will. Let’s not make it difficult for them. Those who find a joke out of Charlie’s status, maybe you should have a HIV test  in the process.  My two cents.

Image credit

Dancing 4 Demand on Global female condom day 2015

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Wednesday, September 16, was the Global Female Condom Day (GFCD) 2015, and the world’s leading manufacturer of the product announced it has sold more than 500 million female condoms in over 144 countries since launching its product in 1995.

In Kenya, female condoms are rare and expensive. They are available in select donor funded clinics and not many women are aware of their existence. They are mostly associated with commercial sex workers, yet, they provide a great substitute of the male condom. Awareness on the use of female condoms could increase women’s options of contraception methods.

The day was commemorated in Kisumu by PATH, an international health organization that transforms global health through innovation, in conjunction with Keeping Alive Societies Hope (KASH), a local based NGO addressing the health and rights challenges faced by marginalized populations in the Kenya. The day was marked by dancing for demand of female condoms, discussions on the challenges of distribution and condom demonstrations.

The Commercial Sex Workers at the celebrations raised among other issues, the high cost of female condoms compared to the male ones. A female condom retails at 300 Kenya shillings. They also asked questions why female condoms are not packaged in 3’s like their male counterparts. Here is a clip on how it went down.

GFCDhttps://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Jr-t2IkYDveUM3ZEphRzkzbm8/preview

Dance4Demand, a collaborative initiative by Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights organizations, holds dances globally on GFCD, while advocating for the availability of female condoms. Anyone can organize a dance in their community with resources to facilitate the advocacy efforts provided on their website.

According to Guttmatcher Institute, widespread promotion of the female condom will help to destigmatize the method and normalize it as a potential method for all sexually active women and men, not just those who engage in high-risk behaviors or are living with HIV or AIDS.

The female condom was designed to give women greater control over their own protection, without having to rely on their partners to use a condom. However, many studies confirm that partner cooperation is necessary for women to use the female condom successfully.

Female condoms are inserted in the vagina before sex. An inner ring on the condoms aids in insertion, while a larger, softer ring remains outside the vagina and keeps the condom in place. Like traditional condoms used by men, the FC2 helps prevent pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Improvements on design keep evolving as manufacturers respond to the consumer feedback.

Who is to blame for the ‘secret contraceptives’?

Photo credit: timeslive.co.za
Photo credit: timeslive.co.za

Tuesday August 18th DN2 cover story, No baby in my house, by Abuta Mageto about mothers secretly duping their teenage daughters to get contraceptives, reminds me of the secret struggle that parents have. Sexuality has always been a taboo subject in the African setting. Which is why getting most mothers to start the sexuality conversation with their teenage daughters is still a big challenge.

A while back I hosted my 14 year old niece who had just finished primary school. That girl gave me such headache because she was all over being friendly with several men, most of whose intentions were clearly not well  meaning. She is a natural beauty, so she was enjoying the glory of catching the attention of men. I feared her getting in trouble- you know pregnant trouble or STIs while she was under my care.

I heard hushed rumors that her grandmother had her injected with contraceptives because she could not handle her. She tried bringing her to me so that as her aunt, I could manage her. After one month, her teenage hormones were too much for me to handle. I say this with remorse because I had to send her back to her grandmother. The remorse is due to the fact that I give a lot of young people counsel on sexuality.

Her mother, my cousin died after long struggle with illness, leaving her and her younger brother as orphans, under the care of grandparents. I was afraid that she might end up with the same story her mother had. These things used to be spoken of in hushed tones, especially if one had been admitted severally in ward 8 of Kenyatta National Hospital, somewhere my late cousin was accustomed to.

Her grandmother the best she could at least to prevent the burden of raising great grand children by secretly putting her on contraceptives. Because she is a Christian, she could not procure abortions for her granddaughter, but many parents do, as Mageto quotes in his article,

Many see children born out of wedlock not only a social burden, but also an unnecessary financial burden in the face of rising inflation, and so, despite the legal restrictions and the medical risks associated with abortion, it is still prevalent in the country.

I tried talking to her about the risks of being sexually active at such a young age. Eventually, I had to send her back to the village, mostly because I was still a student and I could not sustain living with her. This was the time that I also released Earnest and his mother.

As we speak, she has two children with different fathers. I recently spoke on phone with her and asked her if she had plans of getting married to any of her babies’ daddies. She just giggled and said no.

Would anyone blame my aunt for getting contraceptives for this girl? After raising her children, she had been left with her grandchildren to raise and to add salt to a festering wound, she now has great grand children to raise. There is the aspect of preserving the ‘Christian’ image of the family, but also averting the economic burden on already retired grannies. A sad twist to the plot is my aunt was recently widowed. Her husband, my uncle, is yet to be buried this weekend. What next for her?

I EARNESTLY MISS EARNEST

I have suddenly become fixated on babies, as if they feel a growing desire in me to have another one of my own. We all know that that time is no yet. (By we, I mean me, myself and I). Well, I must concentrate on making my life a little better before considering the thought of bringing another life to this world. The first time it was disastrous… but that’s not the story for now.

So in June 2012, I met this mother who had been rescued from the streets by a kind member of our church. She was not really a street mother; she was actually standing in the rain outside the gate to their court at Kariobangi South Estate. She had a baby, without an umbrella and was looking for a kibarua- casual job of laundering clothes. This woman- the church member, was overtaken by compassion and invited her for a cup of tea at her house.

The rest are details. Long story short, I found her living in the lady’s house. Her baby was sickly and from how he was breathing, I could tell that he needed urgent medical attention. The mother did not look any better. She was also coughing and her dark skin looked pale. Now I know this is wrong, but I seized the opportunity to share that the baby was breathing abnormally, just like mine before he died. I talked to the mother and she opened up to me. She had been tested and found to be HIV positive during her ante-natal clinic. I suggested that we take the baby to Blue House Clinic the next day. Blue House was a Comprehensive Care Centre run by Medecines Sans Frontiers- France.

We went to the hospital the next morning and after a myriad of tests, baby Earnest, 9months, was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. No wonder he looked like a three month old or even younger. I couldn’t stand it just seeing the doctors pocking through his skeletal hands and feet looking for veins to draw blood from so as to get his blood work underway. He cried till he lost his voice in the process. The things mothers do to innocent babies in the name of denial of their HIV status. But this was not the time to point accusing fingers. What had been done could never be reversed. Our priority was saving baby Earnest. After that long day, I left the three (Earnest, his mother and their hostess) to go back home with a cocktail of drugs, while I went to school for my evening class.

Earnest

Two days later, the hostess asked me if I could take over hosting her guests because her husband was not comfortable having her around their children. They had five children, two of whom were equally young and they feared chancing infection with TB. So in the midst of mixed feelings of anger toward her hostess because of the sudden subtle stigma, and compassion for the young baby, I took in the two.

My heart may have overtaken my mind, because I was bringing them to a single crammed room, which was already bursting with my books everywhere. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a job. I comforted myself by the thought that where there’s a baby, lack is a rare visitor. God would provide. He sure did provide.

After two months of living with them. Baby Earnest had started looking like a baby, not scrawny as I first saw him. He together with his mother had been started on ARVs and were adapting well to the drugs. His mother was even back to looking for the vibaruas- odd jobs of washing clothes. Luck was on her side, because she always came home having gotten at least two hundred shillings. I advised her to start buying things and we started hunting for a house for her.

The responsibility of providing for a mother and her baby while I didn’t have a job, was weighing me down. One day, I just told her to go back to her former hostess because I could not manage hosting them. I gave them two hundred shillings (I wish I had more, because I could have given it), prayed for them, then sent them away, with my younger brother Clinton escorting them- they had luggage to carry, so my brother came in handy.

They were not received by the former hostess. She went to Korogocho slum, and found a cheap room, at 800shillings. The land lady was kind enough and accepted half of the money, as she looked for the balance.

To be continued…..