Peter 20years - Shame after HIV/AIDS kills my Dad.
"Dad said it was Witchcraft."
I remember clearly as if they had just happened. Having cleared my primary school education, I was excited to join my father in Nakuru for my secondary education. This was a dream come true for me. I had figured out my life at 14 years, where I would smile at my father’s face every time I brought my academic results home. Just like I had hoped, in 2010, I joined Kenyatta Secondary School, and my results were outstanding. I represented my school in all spheres: from science exhibitions to athletics and academic performance to student leadership. But my joy was not long-lived. In 2013, my father developed a series of illnesses that caused his legs to swell and lose weight quickly.
The lies we all thought were true.
At first, Dad said it was witchcraft. Citing from an encounter with my uncle over a piece of land he donated back in the village for some water project the previous year. He insisted that my uncles were not happy and conspiring to finish him. We tried prescribed medications from the local pharmacies, but his symptoms did not improve. His attempts to seek assistance from a native doctor were also futile. He grew weaker and weaker each day, he could not attend work, and I was forced to drop out of school at form four since he could not finance my academics. The idea of staying out of school bothered my dad. He would cry and resent himself for failing to meet his obligations as a parent. This was also hard on me. The pain of seeing my dad struggle with life shattered my hopes, and all I would do was cry alongside my sick father. After these failed medical visits, we resorted to ferrying him to our village home.
Life becomes expensive in the City.
The reason for returning home was that it would be cheaper for him to die at home than in town, for we felt we had tried all we could and failed. So he was admitted to Suba South Sub-County Hospital (then Sindo District Hospital), where he was tested and confirmed HIV positive. The news dumbfounded me. The idea of being near someone HIV positive came with so much weight. I figured all the stories I heard about the virus and knew I was next on the death list. I had questions but did not dare to ask, but after a session of guidance and counselling by a nurse-in-charge, Melissa, my mother, and I also went through the testing services.
The feeling of shame.
Even after I tested HIV negative, I kept asking myself what I would tell my friends when they asked about my dad’s illness. ‘’Why would my father put me through this shame?’’ I kept blaming him. the feeling of shame, fear, and isolation from my friends kept eating at me every day. Even after he had died, I could not talk about his death for fear of being judged by my peers.
Opening up and reaching out helped.
Melissa kept reaching out months after my dad died. She encouraged me and helped me understand that I was not alone in the battle. She also encouraged me to share with my peers, which helped me cope with the situation. She even referred me to a peer support group that helped me deal with stigma. I later joined a peer group and swore to help fight Depression and HIV-related stigma. I was able to go back to school to sit for my final exams. I did my exams and got a direct entry to university to pursue Applied Statistics with Computing. I run a Facebook page on Prevention Care and Treatment for people living with HIV. I work hard to spearhead and spread the message about HIV prevention strategies to everyone. In contrast, I work as an HTS provider, ART adherence counsellor and Health IT volunteer at Migori Referral Hospital.
My message to anyone battling HIV-related stigma is, “You are not alone. Reach out for help.” We are surrounded by a community of supportive, caring healthcare workers.