HIV and AIDS is a disease known and suffered the world over.There is still no known cure for this virus,which,in simple terms,is known to weaken the human body immunity,thus making the person vulnerable to all opportunistic diseases that comes its way.In Kenya,it was declared a National Disaster seven years ago.
Working with fellow women and men living with AIDS,and as an HIV and AIDS counselor,i have been able to meet face to face with thousands of individuals suffering the same,and organizations working with these groups.Many cases are heart tearing.But lives must continue until the last heart-beat is done,and the heart beats no more.
By the United Nations records,130 000 new infections are recorded every year.Nyanza Province,where my community is,has the leading percentage of HIV and AIDS in Kenya,carrying 40% of the countries' HIV and AIDS infections.Unfortunately,it also leads in poverty.Majority of the people in my community live below the poverty line.Along with AIDS,there are many widows and orphans in the community who have to double their plight with poverty.Most of the widows,being HIV Positive,have to carry along the burden of poverty too.Even for those whose husbands live but are poor,the women have to undergo alot.They have to see to it that the families get food and all their needs.When they fall sick,the cost of treatment is beyond the reach of many,exposing them to the fatal eventualities that are likely to be the result if timely medication is not given to the patient.
Those who are both HIV Positive and poor,like the majority are,suffer the worst burden of them all.Women are the biggest sufferers for many reasons.Water and food must be brought home.Water points,especially during the drought like the one that hit Kenya for the past one and a half years.leaves the women and children walking as far as 5 kilometers or more to fetch a 20 liter container of water.Such families have limited water for sanitation and drinking.Containing HIV and AIDS then becomes a nightmare.
Because of the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS,many women in my community suffer silently.Majority of women here have never known to release their voices.Those who do,do so with precaution and limits.People living with AIDS feel inferior,and are treated so.This causes many who have been diagnosed positive to keep it a "secret" and those who have not tested,unfortunately,feel better placed than those who test negative.Mobilizing members of the community has therefore become like trying to furrow land with the hoe tied to a hen.
Poverty makes many women and girls more vulnerable to AIDS.Sex is exchanged with food and money,and other services that one may want.
Says Jeanette,"i would be fine living with this virus.I know what to do in order to take care of it.But i do not have the resources to do it.I cannot get food for my children,leave alone myself..."
My local community has more than 4 000 children orphaned by AIDS.Due to poverty,many of these children are left to manage their own homes.There are households with children as young as ten years old heading the family.This is a story recently shared by a teenage girl who heads her family:" i and my younger siblings have to work for people in their farms so that we can put a meal on the table.Our neighbors have told their children not to play with my six year old sister because she is HIV positive.Along with having no food to eat,she is very lonely." Such cases are experienced everyday by both children and adults,due to stigma associated with AIDS.
Much has been done on sensitization.There is yet more to be done.I would generally say that we have an infomed community.But it turns not to be so when you go one on one with other community members on issues of HIV and AIDS.Many still believe that it is a disease for people who are promiscuous and not faithful in their partners.Along with the recent findings that 50% of teenage boys and 40% of teenage girls have had sex,many teenagers still lack in understanding the facts about this dreaded disease.Along with other programmes that are already in place,parents still need to play a big role.The findings also reveal that the number of youths who indulge in sex go higher year.If abstinence has failed (which we do not readily want to admit),what can parents and other institutions handling the youth do?One parent says,"i don't even want to imagine that my sixteen year old daughter would have anything to do with sex".Many parents would wish to think so,but the real fact is otherwise.
Most of the parents and youth in my community are still shy about addressing issues of AIDS together.They would rather have it in different forums.We are trying to come up with a way to intergrate these parties,because the present methods have so far not been successful.I am sure this integration would bring evem more development than only HIV and AIDS.There is no power as great as te power of sharing.
Non-governmental organizations and The civil Society have been exerting pressure on the Government and International community to see to the following:avail micro finance for women,since this would give them better access to run businesses and do better farming;this in turn would avail finances and food security;avail accesss to medication for all living with HIV and AIDS who cannot afford private treatment or who opt to be treated through government institutions.
These institutions have also worked hard to see that people living with AIDS get access to anti-retroviral(ARVs) drugs and treatment.The availability of A RVs has improved alot,but we are still a long way away from getting proper treatment.Opportunistic infections that come along must be curbed in good time to keep the person healthy.The poor in my community rarely get proper services on this.Drugs are quite exorbitant in prices and so not worth trying for many.Again,ARVs can only be effective when accompanied with good diet and proper health.Peace of mind is also needed.How can we have all these in the absence of our basic life needs?
Majority of illiterate people,who also happen to be women,live in the rural area.This illiteracy is a result of poverty and the girl child getting second priority to that of the boy.This has added to lack of information to the women-folk,even in circumstances where the resources are available.Language barrier has also become a big issue,because without school then one is likely to know only the local language.They are therefore not able to benefit from the many materials that come through the different media outlets in English.
Within our Community Based Organizations,we have mapped out references where we cannot avail facilities.This has been of big help to the women since they can take one more step towards a positive direction.They now know their rights better,making them less vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.
Much is done within the communities,but still the impact cannot be felt.This will only happened with changed attitudes.When poverty is taken care of,with availability of food and other basic facilities,only then will we achieve our goals.
We can make a difference in our own communities.We must stop the further spread of AIDS,but again we must handle the infections that are already there in the best possible ways.Kenyans living with HIV and AIDS suffer in diverse ways,but those in the rural community suffer most:Health institutions are a long distance away for some clients and with the looming poverty,sometimes it is 'wiser' to use any funds that may be available for a 'more productive' course.
We want a community that is free of HIV and AIDS,and Poverty.We want a community where women are recognised as equal to men,and not having to play second fiddle.We want it here and now.Let us take the lead where we can.Let us take charge where possible.We need more platforms,we need more forums to raise our issues.We want to be heard both locally and internationally.We are not asking for fish,but again is there a lake at all?
HIV and AIDS has been a major factor in creating poverty in many families.When a person is down with sickness,then the quality of production that brings food and income to the family goes down.Then,the family has to use resources that might have been there earlier to get the necessary medication and all the needs that come along with sickness.Unfortunately sometimes,the person ends up dying and production is completely cut off,leaving the family in terrible situation.
The government has a big job to do,but we cannot wait any longer.If she can't stand the heat she should get out of the kitchen.Ironically,we must move as we wait.We do not need sympathy,we need action.We want to see a change right from the present generation.The future will only be a continuation of the present.
The deaths that we presently have due to complications that are HIV related should not be there any more.They can be prevented.The government should give priority to AIDS than it does.There should be more help for those who are less privileged in the society,the poor and the disabled.Pediatric AIDS is one issue that is given very limited attention,leading to deaths of children at an early age that could otherwise have been saved.Children cannot advocate for themselves and it is sad to note that they are often given the least priority.
Even through the struggles,there is always hope to do better.Hope to live,at least for others who need us.Remember-a mother can never be replaced.Women are naturally community volunteers.Is a volunteer not worth twenty pressed men?
Let us give respect to these women.Let us honor the women.They have lived with AIDS,they have lived with poverty.Living with these two is a struggle,and they do.We do.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Assignment: Op-eds.