Contracting HIV at 22 turned my life around

Contracting HIV at 22 turned my life around. Photo | LUCY WANJIRU

What you need to know:

  • Jane Sando, 30, was diagnosed with HIV at 22
  • After struggling to accept her status, today, she has dedicated her life towards improving HIV patients' quality of life

"On one cloudy day on October 14th, 2013, I did a HIV test when I was eight months pregnant, and the news that I was HIV positive hit me like a thunderbolt. I was plagued by guilt that perhaps I should have had protected sex to save my life. The reality that I was HIV positive at the age of 22, took the wind out of me. At times, I felt torn and some days I wanted to vanish from the world. I was still in denial and I wished I would flush the virus out of my system. I didn't know anything about HIV, and at first, I thought I would die. 

My journey has been one of pain, regret, and agony, especially, because I became HIV positive in my last trimester of pregnancy. I was a very young mother nursing a baby and also dealing with HIV. It was very confusing because I didn't know how to disclose the information to my spouse and my relatives. Many questions lingered in my mind 'watanichukulia aje?' (how are they going to take the news). 

I became bitter with my spouse as before settling in the relationship I was HIV negative. Life had taken a tragic turn, and I recall I would take ARVs medication secretly and still take precautions of protecting my child by giving him medication because I was breastfeeding.

After hiding my status for one year, I decided to disclose it to my husband and my sister. Upon sharing it with my sister on the phone, she told me 'wewe si wa kwanza'(you are not the first one). I recall looking at her and wondering, 'do you really know that my life has changed for eternity?'. 

Also, it was a very tough moment sharing it with my husband and I remember shaking and crying bitterly. After sharing about my status, my husband was not shocked as he said 'nilijua uko positive' (I knew you were HIV positive). I couldn't believe it and I remember asking him why he never came clean about his status. I was bitter that I was not only positive but my husband knew about it all along. 

This brought flashbacks of how I engaged in unprotected sex thinking there is no way "my partner can be HIV positive." To date, I always wish I opted for protected sex or insisted we go for HIV testing. My husband was very apologetic for contacting me with the disease and it was a tough journey contemplating how he was never honest with me. 

The fear that I would die anytime started as a thought and before I knew it, I was exhibiting suicidal ideas. I remember taking seven ARV pills at once to die. I always see it as a miracle that I am still alive as I recall how instead of dying I became dizzy, vomited, and run out of strength for three days straight. Luckily, I was rushed to the hospital and that's how my journey of healing started.

Forgiveness is not an easy path. I battled with bitterness for years. It's a tough journey and I would never wish anyone to go through such pain. I always advise people to go for HIV testing, especially as a couple. Never make the mistake I did, thinking that all people are HIV negative just by looking at them. Today, I have accepted my life as it is and am glad that I have been able to forgive my husband and we are now happily married. 

I am very grateful to Kariobangi North Health Centre who helped me learn everything I needed to know about HIV such as eating a balanced meal, maintaining a positive attitude about life, taking medication, and interacting with others who have undergone a similar journey. I have been working for more than three years in the Fahari ya Jamii, HIV response team, where we walk with people infected with HIV. I have dedicated my life to HIV patients to help them focus on improving their quality of life. I am grateful to the government for ensuring that I can access ARVs. 

I recall how I encountered stigma when I shared my status with my friends, and I must ensure that people living with HIV will face less discrimination in the coming years.

The key lesson that I have learnt from living with HIV is that even if we have to face drawbacks and challenging moments, we have the chance to change our mindset and guard our hearts against any negativity. To me, changing people's mindset is a recognition of human rights."

What You need to know:

  • On 1st December 2021, Kenya marked World AIDS Day which marked 40 years since HIV/AIDS was first reported in Kenya.
  • This year the theme was 'Ending the HIV Pandemic, equitable access, Everyone's access.'
  • Kenya's efforts to fight the scourge have been successful in the past few years. For instance, in 2020, at least 42,000 new infections were recorded down from the early 2000s, when at least 700 people were infected daily.
  • The majority of new infections in Kenya are from the 20-24 age group
  • Despite tremendous progress on November 17, 2021, the Kenyan government reported that the use of condoms for those aged between 20-24 years is low with females accounting for only 37.5 percent and males 68.9 percent of use.
  • Kenya's HIV prevalence rate stands at 4.3 percent according to the latest Ministry of health data.

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