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It's A Different World Without Medicines: Testimony From Kenyan HIV/AIDS Patients Who Do and Don't Have Access to ARV Treatment
July 11, 2002
It is not easy to get testimonies from African people with HIV/AIDS because of the continuing stigma surrounding the disease. Recently, however, four HIV/AIDS patients in Kenya spoke with MSF about the disease and ARV treatment. None of the four can afford the treament. Two are receiving ARVs through an MSF treatment program in Homa Bay, western Kenya, an area that has one of the highest prevalance rates in Africa—around 35% of the adult population. One, "Lucy" (* all names changed to protect the patient's identity), has ARVs sent to her by a friend in South Africa. The fourth patient, "Jane," has no access to these life-extending medicines.
ARVs Are Too Expensive For Me
Jane*, 27 years, lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Nairobi, Mathare. Jane was married for four years when last year her husband died of AIDS. Jane is left with AIDS herself, and has one six-year old daughter. She is too poor to buy ARVs.
"My husband was the one who started to be ill. So we have been buying medicines, but there was no change [improvement], so we decided to see a doctor, who told us to go for an HIV test. Then we were found to be [HIV] positive."
"It was shocking. I thought it was the end of my life and everything. I feared nobody would take care of us, and if I died that nobody would take care of my daughter. At the same time my husband was very weak. He was getting treatment for the diseases that he got, but not for the HIV. [At some point] he had a heart problem; that was on a Thursday. When it reached Saturday—it was Saturday the 1st December, it was World AIDS Day—that day is when he passed away. I was there when it happened."
Since then, Jane's life has changed dramatically for the worse.
"There is a very bad thing for AIDS widows. When the husband has died, they [the relatives] take everything from you and just leave you like that, because they know that you are going to die. They took everything from me. I had many things, but they took it away. If you go to my house now, you don't find anything that belonged to my husband. I even had no mat or mattress to sleep on. You remain just like that, without anybody caring about you. I'm not the only one; it happens to many."
"After my husband died, I went to stay with my sister, but life was not good because [of] they way they were treating me and my daughter. Not everybody understands HIV or AIDS. If you are HIV-positive, some will think that you are a prostitute. It's wrong: I didn't know my husband was HIV-positive. Anybody can get it. Some people will not share food with you. Like in the house of my sister, we were eating apart. I had my own basin, plates, cups, and cutlery for me and my daughter. They don't understand [how] AIDS [is transmitted]."
"My life is very different now [as compared to before she had AIDS.]. I regret that I told my sister [about having AIDS]. We are no longer friends. No family member is supporting me. I now fear telling my friends. Some know, but most don't know."
In Kenya's worsening economy, finding a job is extremely hard. Jane has no income. "I tried to find any job that I can do, but it is hard: I did not go to college, I have no experience with any job, so I've been looking for jobs like cleaning, house girl, but it's difficult to get."
Still, Jane has been able to find a house for herself and her daughter with the help of some friends.
"There are no relatives who help me—only my friends. They give me some money, like there is one friend of mine who rents a house for me, there's another one who takes my daughter to school [pays the school fees]. When you would go to my house you [would] see it's very simple. I don't have anything expensive. I don't have a bed; I have a mattress, but a small one."
Over the last few years, Jane suffered a number of diseases due to her AIDS status. "I developed illnesses, I was also developing ulcers, [and] I sometimes had bad discharges. Most of the time I was sick, vomiting. I went to the hospital for treatment and I started following instructions from the doctor, and started counselling [at the MSF HIV/AIDS project in Mathare]. Since then I have been following the medicines and antibiotics and doing all the things that they told me, and I haven't been very sick since then."
"I normally come for a check-up every month. I also come here [the MSF project] often because they are my friends."
"It is far away, but I like coming here because it is dealing with people like me. I normally come by foot, although there is also a mini-bus coming here, because I don't have [money for] the fare. From my home it takes about 45 minutes. If I have a problem, I come here talking to them, [and] they counsel me. They have been so good to me, but not to me alone, but to many people in Mathare."
"I can't get ARVs and here they can't give [them to] me. It's very expensive, and we are so many. My doctor here says that if it becomes cheaper, maybe they can give [ARVs to] me. With ARVs I would maybe survive and take care of my daughter. I don't want her to suffer the way I'm suffering now."
"I think the government or social workers can [should] go [to] houses, to look for the people who are suffering [from] AIDS, because there are [many] who die in the house. They cannot afford the drugs, and many have nobody to [take] care of them. So they are weak, but they are weak because they are not eating. They don't have food or someone to take care of them. At least if someone could go and look for them. More people should help."