Old women fight parental HIV stigma

Elizabeth Ngonyo Kanyigi, a peer educator with Vision Group of the the Mang'a CBO.JPG
Elizabeth Ngonyo Kanyigi, a peer educator with Vision Group of the the Mang'a CBO.JPG

Ten years ago, Elizabeth Ngonyo Kanyigi never thought she would one day become a village counsellor.

That was until her daughter, Teresia Wangui, who was already living with HIV, married a HIV positive man..

Elizabeth, now 58, had the onerous task of encouraging her 22-year-old daughter that she could still live a full life.

“I taught her that regardless of being sick, life had to continue. We prayed to God to give us her drugs and food.”

Teresia is now 38. She had always thought she was suffering from malaria, until she tested for HIV.

“Were it for my mother and father taking care of me, I would be long dead. I and my husband were blessed with a HIV negative baby boy, Eric, in 2009. He is now seven years old and in class two,” she says.

In 2008, Elizabeth and other elderly people in Mang'u in Kiambu county, formed a support group called Vision to educate other villagers on HIV/Aids.

Elizabeth comes from Mwea village, Gatukuyu Sub-location in Mang’u Location, and is now a peer educator with the group.

She says they are fighting a different kind of stigma – parental stigma. “We were able to access the children with Aids who had been been neglected by the parents; and they appreciated them and took them to hospital,” she says.

They usually know of parents whose children have HIV because the village is close knit.

“When we hear of rumours of Aids, we usually go to confirm which kind of disease it is by gently talking with the alleged patients. We usually teach everybody despite of the age, because were taught to teach people with HIV as if we are age mates,” she says.

“When Helpage International came, they found other existing groups. The only place where we could get ARVs from was Kiandutu, which isn’t near,” she says.

Teresia is expecting another child in May this year and believes it will also be negative. “During antenatal clinics, we are usually taught breastfeeding your child while you are positive isn’t a guarantee the child will also be infected. I decided to feed Eric with feeding bottle, which was expensive because I had to buy milk everyday.”

Teresia acknowledges her mother’s support in teaching her condom use with her husband. “Sometimes you're stressed you when your husband wants to have sex without condom because the load of HIV virus in the body will increase.”

She says they also take ARVs faithfully.

“The doctor will advise you according to the time your of your monthly periods, but not having sex everyday. We will disclose our (HIV) statuses to Eric when he is old enough to understand. Mother advises me on always delivering at the hospital because home delivery can infect the infant with HIV,” says the second born in a family of five.

Sister Margaret Wanjiru, the head nurse at the Mang’u village-based Aids Integrated Programme (AIP), says that they partnered with Helpage in 2008 because of a shared interest in HIV for older persons.

“We are also concerned with the livelihoods of these older people with HIV. We usually make and sell CDs at about Sh100, the latest one being on drugs and alcoholism – which is very prevalent in our area. Because a drunkard is not responsible, there might be issues of rape and poverty. If a woman or girl experiences poverty, they may resort to prostitution; because we live very near to each other due to land fragmentation.”

The HIV patients and pregnant mothers are helped at Mang’u Dispensary – owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi.

“We only charge Sh20 for taking care of the clinic because we operate on rented land. We get money to buy to buy the drugs from a partner organisation,” says Sister Margaret, who also runs the clinic.

She says there are some opportunistic diseases they don’t treat, and that they have children also living with HIV.

If a pregnant mother with HIV registers at the clinic, they are monitored every month. She says every mother who comes for antenatal clinic must be tested for HIV to ascertain their status.

“The child of a HIV positive mother breastfeeds normally but we discourage the mother from giving the child any other food. Once you stop breastfeeding and turn to food, don’t go back or alternate. If the child reaches 18 months and on testing he is not positive that child is likely not to contract the disease all through his life.”

“Instead of telling HIV positive couples that they will not get a baby, we usually test their HIV level. If it’s too high we usually discourage and advise that they should have sex while it’s low to avoid more infection. Again, they should have sex only when the woman is fertile for conception,” she says.

She discourages HIV positive mothers against buying over-the-counter drugs, and instead visit a hospital.

Michael Bibiu Kahiro, 54, the secretary of Vision, and also a peer educator, admits that the group will soon start to enroll young people. “The older people were taught and we now we cannot include the youth because they won’t fully capture the essentials.”

Vision began with 25 members but dropped to the current 15.

Given that HIV prevalence in Mang’u sub-location has gone down, the group is now concentrating on something else. “We will recruit youths to teach them about alcoholism, which is more prevalent here, because they are most affected and can easily transmit HIV while drunk.”

Members also practise table banking and take loans from their savings.

“The amount of loans we usually give depends on the applicant’s savings, which must be a minimum of Sh200 – which we usually multiply by three. The interest rate depends on the Kenyan shilling standing against the US dollar,” he says, adding that the applicant fills a form to show the money usage.

Erastus Maina, Helpage International Kenya country programme manager says the organisation has developed the first ever manual for Aids peer educators in East Africa.

Helpage is supporting Vision in their work.

“How many old people can request for a condom from a shop?” he asks.