Kawangware, Kenya - My name is Esther and I am 38. I found out I was positive in 2004. I think a change in the stigma would help people living with HIV/AIDS.
I was expecting, and I went to the hospital for a check-up because I was sick. The doctor asked me, “Do you know about HIV/AIDs?” I said I had heard about it on the radio, but didn’t know anyone who was positive and didn’t know the signs.
I knew it existed, that it had no cure, and that when you have AIDS no one goes close to you. When people died in Nairobi and were taken back to their homes up-country, they were taken home in a plastic bag all wrapped up and no one would go near the bag because they’re afraid. Families used to spend money to pay people who would bring the body up. It’s still like that now, in places like Kakamega, where I’m from. People are terrified of it.
I’d heard advertisements on the radio saying “come and get tested.” But I didn’t understand why you’d be tested if it had no cure. Now I know HIV is a manageable disease, according to how you want to manage it. I know it’s transmitted from sex, from mother to child, from blood transfusions, from playing with sharp blades and needles and things.
The doctor told me my results were positive and asked me how I felt. And I said “well that is the result, I have to accept it.” When I was tested and got the results I knew something must have been wrong somewhere in my marriage. Maybe my husband had been cheating.
I went home and told my husband about my status, but he didn’t accept it. He left the house, left me, and we decided to live apart. I told him he should be tested but he wouldn’t.
My child that I was pregnant with when I was tested was born positive, but he died at 9 months.
I didn’t tell my neighbours in Kibera. No one wants to hear about HIV/AIDs and I was scared of what they’d say. When they hear someone coughing or being sick, they gossip and spread rumours, saying people are positive.
What really annoyed me was that one of my neighbours told my daughter “oh your Mama will die and then you will be a burden to us because your Mama is HIV.” I hadn’t told the children at that point because my eldest was doing the Std 8 exams at school and I didn’t want to stress her out. I told my children when we moved to Kawangware, when we went for our fresh start. I sat them all down and talked about the importance of HIV/AIDs testing, and how people who are positive can live together. I said you need to accept that I am positive and help me so that I can live for a long time.
I believe HIV isn’t the only killer. It’s also the stigma and the stress that kills faster. Being stressed makes people more unhealthy and some even commit suicide. I think sharing and advising and being kind is important.
Some more organisations should help people who are in need – especially for people who are living positively.
If people find out their status, they have to accept it, go to the doctor and live the new life that comes with it. And don’t give up. You have to know this is a new life you are starting. Don’t focus on dying, focus on life.
Based on an interview with Alexi O’Brien in 2011.