Stigma; The Boy Whose Name Was Orphan

There is this advertisement in Kenya on television that I find disconcerting. It features a woman in bed with a man who is not her husband, insinuating that this is what causes HIV. This advert puts me on edge. I feel like I have got fire ants in my pants! Those 60 seconds it runs feel like a very longtime. I feel that way because it is adding to the many people who are misinformed about HIV.

I am always tempted to pull my son George aside to put things straight and explain to him that he and his grandmother, among other thousands of people we serve at CARE for AIDS, were not in that situation.

George is now 17 years old, and he is half blind because of the anti-retroviral medicine he has been taking. When I first met George, a neglected boy from the Huruma slums in Nairobi, it pained my heart that a child born of a father and a mother would be left wandering in the slums.  It was evident no one cared.

George tells me that all his life he has always had to deal with HIV-related problems.  It does not make things easier because people know him as “Yule kijana wa ukimwi,” or “The young man with AIDS.”

“I hate going back home-to the village, because most people there identify me as the person whose parents died of AIDS, never by my name,” he tells me. George was born HIV-positive. His parents died of HIV-related complications, leaving him to be brought up partly by his grandmother before he found his way to the slums. Years after his mother died, his concerned grandmother sought to know why he was not putting on weight and why he was not developing as fast as other children his age. The doctor asked why George’s mother had not brought him to hospital herself. That is how he got to find out what caused the death of George’s parents. The poor boy was already infected.

His grandmother went back home and shared her predicament with others, thinking that she would get support. However, this only served as fodder for gossip. It was, and still is, tough for George because everyone, especially where he comes from, stares and treats him strangely. This is something that compelled him to run away from his grandmother’s place in the village, landing into the slums where no one knew about his status…at the time, he was just a 9 year old boy.

Later on, back in the village, his grandmother started to fall sick. She had the same symptoms as those of her deceased son and daughter-in-law. She was sure it was a curse until the same doctor suggested that she has a HIV test done. The positive verdict was like a death sentence. Presumably, George’s grandmother got infected with the virus while caring for his parents. I was lucky to meet her, and at 85 years, she still does not understand how she got infected with the virus. As George and l talked, we thanked God that his grandmother, who lives upcountry, does not own a television set and has therefore never seen the advertisements that link HIV/AIDS with promiscuity.