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Teenager born with HIV defies stigma

Health & Science - By - Peter Orengo | September 11th 2012 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Peter Orengo

Rita Dumba was born in 1998 to HIV positive parents. She was the last born of three siblings, with the second born sister having died at the age of three.

In 2005, this family from Kagonya Village in Siaya County lost their sole breadwinner and father, to a HIV-related disease. By the time of her father’s death, the health of Rita’s mother was equally deteriorating. She suffered from HIV-related opportunistic infections, eventually succumbing in 2008 leaving Rita and her elder brother orphans.

Soon, her brother took off to start a new life in town, after dropping out of school, leaving a ten-year-old Rita in the hands of her grandmother, now her guardian. It was at her granny’s that Lencer tested positive for HIV.

At the age of eleven, her health was constantly fluctuating. Her concerned grandmother always took her to hospitals, where they repeatedly gave her anti-malarial and cough syrup without effect. She then developed skin rashes, which were treated but to no success either. Non-response to the treatment prompted medics to test her for HIV.

When she tested positive, Rita was immediately put on Septrin and multivitamin as a form of HIV management and to stabilise her condition.

ACE Africa intervention

The Rita’s plight was forwarded to the Action in the Community Environment (ACE) Africa, a local NGO working with orphans and vulnerable children in western Kenya, for any possible assistance.

Lencer was enrolled on nutrition supplement and psycho-social treatment. The impact was dramatic.

“She quickly got stronger and gained weight. She was also able to attend school regularly unlike before,” says Augustine Wasonga, the ACE Africa executive director.

An ACE Africa’s trained counsellor also worked with the family to monitor the health of Lencer and the general wellbeing of the entire family.

“The girl receives regular psycho-social support from the counsellor and has been directly supported with scholastic items such school uniforms and sanitary pads,” says Mr Wasonga.

“Three months ago I was weak and bedridden. I could not move. The counsellor started visiting me at school and home and told me what to eat. I am now in a community group that gives me nutritious flour and food. I was also taken to hospital and I have regained strength and resumed school,’’ says the 14- year-old Class Seven pupil at Ogeya Primary School.

Rita’s aunt Margaret, who pays her school fees and upkeep, says counselling has played a big part in enabling her live a positive life.

“Counselling played a big role in her treatment and care. Rita today lives a normal life like any other child who is not infected,” said Margaret.

Outcome and impact

She has joined the Child-to-Child Club in her school, and has been receiving regular counselling and guidance from trained teachers. Moreover, she has been linked to child right club at the health facility, a club that is composed of HIV positive children.

“Rita is one of the miracles in our work. She is bright and you cannot know she is living with Aids,” said Lencer’s counselor, Bertha Anyango.

She says with the skills the girl has acquired at school and assistance from the area gardener, Rita has established a kitchen garden at home, where they can now get food and the grandmother able to sell the surplus.

Next step

According to Mr Wasonga, many children are often not diagnosed early enough because some parents don’t attend ante and postnatal clinics. In some cases the clinics they attend have no capacity to do counseling and testing as there is always shortage of staff and test kits; medics tend to

By organisations working alone, it leads to poor service and case management, particularly for children affected or infected with HIV like Rita. ACE Africa continues to provide her counseling, follow-up study and has engaged the support of teachers in the schools where other HIV positive children get their education.

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