Joe Muriuki was the first Kenyan to announce publicly his HIV status in late 1989. Doctors advised his wife, Jane Ngima, to terminate her three months old pregnancy because the baby would not live more than two months. Eric Munyiri, who was to be aborted is a scholar who spoke to JAMES MWANGI
Eric Munyiri, who is living free of HIV, graduated with a bachelors’ degree in landscaping technology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology last year. But he still has questions for doctors who wanted him dead.
“I have wanted to meet the doctors and ask them some tough questions. If I was a threat to my mum’s life then, that decision could have been justified, but was I?” he poses.
In 1989, doctors argued that even though his mother Jane Ngima had tested negative eight times during her pregnancy, Munyiri was definitely going to be HIV positive and die within the first few weeks of birth. “They are supposed to be professionals, yet they condemned me to death and exposed my parents to ridicule,” Munyiri says with wonder.
Had his then 26-year-old mother complied with the doctors’ advice, Munyiri who was ranked position 90 (with 459 marks out of 500) in Central Kenya in the 2003 KCPE and scored A-minus in the 2007 KCSE exams, would not be alive today. “I owe my life to my parents,” says Munyiri proudly. He discloses that “even my close relatives wanted me aborted.”
But why would doctors recommend an abortion even after determining that Ngima and her unborn son were free of the virus?
Joe Muriuki, Munyiri’s father, discloses that there was too much stigma and nobody gave them a reason to be hopeful, as doctor after doctor advised them to prepare for the worst. The Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) Programme Director, Prof Omu Anzala, notes that entrenched stigma and myths surrounding the disease were quite rampant at the time. “The disease was a mystery. That is why even the dead were buried in polythene wrappings,” he says.
The incident has made Munyiri lose trust in doctors and “interestingly my immunity is strong to keep me off doctors. I can’t remember the last time I visited I was seriously ill and needed to see a doctor.” Munyiri says. He reveals that, “Whenever I visit doctor I demand very clear explanation about the diagnosis and prescription. It is pretty clear why I have become so particular about any advice from a doctor.”
Munyiri only fell seriously sick when in Class Three, recalls his mother. His body reacted further reacted negatively to some malaria medication.
When his status became public, the then accountant at Nairobi City Council packed and left for his upcountry in Nyeri, from where he waited for news of Munyiri’s death. Workmates at City Hall even threw his chair out the window, while a local bank declined to open an account fearing he was not going to live for long.
Since Munyiri’s mother is a teacher, she organised for his son’s admission at a local school. But on getting wind of this, parents and pupils reportedly p planned a protest. “The headteacher told me he was under instructions from the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) not to let me in. I was told that only the education minister could handle my case,” discloses Ngima.
The family’s first-born son was isolated in a corner and teachers never marked his books at a primary school in Eastlands where he had been admitted. The discrimination reportedly followed him to secondary school, forcing his parents to relocate him to Uganda.