Won­der drugs that keep fam­i­lies to­gether

HT Ludhiana Live - - Wellness - San­chi­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

He is sim­ply called “the Or­phan”. He is the name­less 14-year-old who lives with his aunt Mary Adi­amborogo, 35, a frail young widow and her two chil­dren in Many­atta, a sub­ur­ban vil­lage in Kisumu in western Kenya.

I’m sure he has a name, but he seems to pre­fer to be called the Or­phan. When I ask him his name, he looks away, per­haps be­cause he knows my at­tempt­ing to put a name to his sit­u­a­tion would not make it any bet­ter.

He is one of Kenya’s 2.6 mil­lion or­phans, of whom 1.2 mil­lion chil­dren un­der 17 years have lost their par­ents to AIDS. By the end of 2011, 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple were liv­ing with HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — of which 180,000 are chil­dren un­der 14, shows UNAIDS data.

The Or­phan lost both his par­ents when he was young. He doesn’t know what killed them, but only what it meant to his life. He moved in with his un­cle, who died soon af­ter of AIDS. So the Or­phan ended up with his aunt and her two chil­dren.

He’s dropped out of school, as have his two young cousins. Adi­amborogo is too sick to work be­cause she has HIV and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis — which in­fects 60% of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV be­cause they have pre­car­i­ously low im­mu­nity.

A cock­tail of AIDS and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis drugs have saved her from near-death ear­lier this year. “One day, I fell from bed and could not get up. I was in pain and told my fam­ily to leave me to die,” she re­calls. She has no fam­ily to look af­ter her chil­dren, and wor­ries they will be­come an­other or­phan statis­tic should she suc­cumb to her ill­ness.

Help for her came in the form of Pamela Anyengo, a com­mu­nity healthworker who told her the tu­ber­cu­lo­sis could go. She visits Adi­amborogo each day to make sure she takes her drugs to treat tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and AIDS

Kisumu county has the worst health in­di­ca­tors in Kenya, with HIV preva­lence of 14.9% (com­pared to Kenya’s 7.1%) and only one in three women de­liver babies in the pres­ence of skilled health work­ers. Like in most parts of the de­vel­op­ing world, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis is the lead­ing cause of death among peo­ple who are HIV pos­i­tive. In Kenya, 95% of TB pa­tients had HIV in 2009, which is the lat­est data avail­able.

But you don’t have to be an or­phan to be de­nied an ed­u­ca­tion. In­fec­tious dis­eases push thou­sands of Kenyans out of school and into poverty — de­fined as liv­ing un­der US$1 a day (8,000 Kenyan shillings).

Atiego, 16, lives in a slum called Kib­era in Nairobi with her mother and five other sib­lings. Three are adopted or­phans whom Atiego’s mum took in af­ter her sis­ter and her hus­band died of un­known causes.

Atiego’s hus­band died many years ago. She doesn’t re­mem­ber when. Her mum Mon­ica Acheieng is just 30 years old and leaves home ev­ery morn­ing to sit out­side apart­ment build­ings with many women like her in hope of be­ing hired as do­mes­tic help that would get her 200-300 KS — $4-6 — to feed her­self and her six chil­dren.

Atiego does not want to marry. “If I want kids, I’d just take or­phans from the streets and live with them. There are so many of them,” she says.

Un­like in In­dia where few peo­ple ad­mit to hav­ing HIV or even hav­ing met some­one in­fected with it, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to find a Kenyan who doesn’t have a friend, fam­ily or neigh­bour liv­ing with HIV or dy­ing of AIDS. Com­pared to In­dia there is very lit­tle stigma in Kenya, though some, like Maria Ananyango, 39, have lost their jobs. Ananyango worked at a hair sa­lon be­fore she was sacked. She, how­ever, still gets pri­vate clients at home, who are not both­ered by her HIV sta­tus.

The stigma goes down af­ter a crit­i­cal mass is af­fected, say ex­perts, but when they are treat­able in­fec­tions such as HIV and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, it doesn’t make sense to wait for ev­ery­one to get struck down be­fore seek­ing treat­ment that can get you back on your feet.

Illustration: ABHIMANYU

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