Jasinta lives with the knowledge that she has HIV.
She was diagnosed in 2009 but kept it a secret, even from her husband.
‘I lived in stigma and denial’, she told me. The stigma of HIV is a big problem here in Kenya. Newly diagnosed patients find that their neighbours and friends turn away from them and their customers shun their businesses. It is a lonely life for many Kenyans with HIV.
When she discovered she was pregnant, a year after her her diagnosis, she went to the local health clinic. She was lucky that the clinic she visited was one that offered a support group for mothers with HIV. She was assigned a Mother Mentor, who told her about the disease and the ways in which she could protect her unborn child. She took her medicines at the exact times, used condoms, and regularly attended the health clinic.
When Jasinta told her husband her secret, he reacted well and agreed to be tested. He too was HIV+. They worked together to improve their health, eating as well as they could and following the recommendations of the health clinic to the letter.
When their baby boy, Warren Charles, was born Jasinta breastfed him for six months before weaning him. She found weaning hard, as her son was not happy about giving up the mother milk, but her husband supported her. She had been sticking to the strict medication regime that the health centre prescribed.
Her son was tested several times in the first year of his life. The tests were negative. Jasinta had a Negative Baby.
We talked about her other children, and how she was preparing them for the news that she and her husband are HIV+. She spoke of the way in which children in school were informed about HIV/AIDS. When Jasinta talked to her eldest son, who is 10 years old, about people with HIV, he was most distressed
Mama, having a mother with HIV would be terrible. AIDS kills!
The children were taught in school that HIV/AIDS kills; they learned songs with this message. For Jasinta, dispelling the myths around the disease became a personal goal.
She decided to become a Mother Mentor in order to help other women. Since that day, she has travelled to the Health Centre regularly, to support newly diagnosed women.
I interviewed Jacinta at the CDC/KEMRI funded Siaya District Hospital Clinic Research Centre, in the province of Nyanza. This area is infamous for the high rate of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and one of the highest rates of Maternal and Infant Mortality in Kenya.The Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control works with the Kenyan health authority KEMRI to research and control communicable diseases. In the coming years, they will broaden their range to include non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
I asked Jacinta what she told the women she counselled.
I tell them to go to family planning and get help. I tell them not to live in stigma. I tell them that I am positive and I have a negative baby. I look better than many women who are HIV negative. I take care of my health.
Jacinta beamed as she told me
I decided to live my life positively. I am very happy. I am HIV+ and I have a Negative baby