My name is Alice. My husband died in 2008 when I was pregnant with our sixth child. I moved to a house in Kakamega from Ikolomani village, where my family lives.
My husband was the family breadwinner, supplying vegetables to traders at the trading center in the village. He had been sick often, was referred to the provincial general hospital in Kakamega, and later died.
After my husband died, my in-laws destroyed my matrimonial home and chased me away from the family land. They accused me of killing their son and brother — my husband. Since that time, I have become an enemy to my husband’s family. They even announced during the burial of my husband that I was responsible for his death, and I was chased together with all five children and the sixth I was carrying in my womb. At that time, I did not know what killed my husband. All I was told was that he had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and when his condition got worse he was admitted at the provincial hospital.
A few months after we buried my husband, I fell ill. A friend advised me to get tested for HIV. In 2009, I learned I was living with HIV. Upon discovering my positive status, I was given a test to determine my immunity levels and received medication to stay healthy during my pregnancy. When I gave birth, I was given antiretroviral drugs and I breastfed my daughter for six months.
A mentor-mother I met at the hospital helped me join a prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) support group, which helped me to find courage and hope in life. When I went to my first support group meeting I was told to introduce myself and talk about my status. I listened to other women speak, and when it was my turn, I froze. I only managed to say “I am like you” and then sat down.
At the support group meetings, I met beautiful girls who I really admired. They were all HIV-positive but living healthy lives. Some even had their hair beautifully done. I was inspired as I listened to their stories and knew that I can also be like them: smart, confident, and healthy.
Today, I speak openly about my status, and I sometimes am called to address people in large meetings. My youngest daughter, who I was carrying when I was diagnosed with HIV, has tested negative for HIV. We will do another test when she is 18 months old, in four months time. I later learned that my four-year-old child, who did not receive prevention services, is living with HIV. She is now taking medicine to keep her healthy and growing.
I still face discrimination, even within my own family. Following my husband’s death, I support our children through manual work, including tilling other people’s land and washing their clothes; raising six children on this income remains a challenge. Thankfully, my oldest daughter is in secondary school and receiving education from an organization that supports children from poor backgrounds.
Alice is a 34-year-old widow who resides in Kakamega town of western Kenya in Amalemba estate. Since discovering she is living with HIV, Alice has endured abuse but is facing discrimination head-on, supporting other women who go through similar ordeals. Alice is among many mothers who are benefitting from the drastic shift in the attitudes of healthcare workers in Kakamega provincial general hospital following training on integrated management of adult and adolescence illnesses, PMTCT, and pediatric psychosocial support they have received from the Foundation through the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) AIDS, Population and Health Integrated Assistance Program Western (APHIA II Western) project. HIV services are now integrated into existing maternal and child health (MCH) services, which has enhanced the quality healthcare available for pregnant mothers and children. Support groups established with funding from GlaxoSmithKline Positive Action also have helped to provide a supportive environment within the communities for HIV-positive mothers and children.