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Students in Western Kenya face discrimination over HIV status

By Maureen Odiwuor | June 15th 2016
Participants at a forum in Kisumu county where discrimination of students living with HIV/Aids was discussed. [PHOTO: MAUREENODIWUOR/STANDARD]

Stigmatisation of people living with HIV/Aids has long been one of the major challenges in managing the disease.

Recently, at an adolescent forum held in Kisumu county, it emerged that teenagers living with HIV/Aids in schools within Kisumu, Homa Bay and Siaya counties are being discriminated against at the school.

Various young people came forward to share their painful experiences and create awareness of this on-going injustice.

One such person is 17-year-old Emmaculate Akinyi (not her real name). The form four pupil at a school in Kisumu county is HIV positive having been born with the virus.

This was a secret that was concealed from many. However, when she reported to boarding school, her parents confided in a teacher who they asked to monitor Emmaculate’s use of her anti-retroviral drugs. Due to the sensitivity of her situation, her mother expected the teacher to be discrete.

Unfortunately, this teacher spread the information to her colleagues who started ridiculing the young girl in school. Before long, it became public knowledge that she was suffering from HIV and this led to discrimination from her peers which affected her school performance.

“I once went with my colleague to the staff room to consult over a question that was bothering us. The teacher I approached dismissed me and rubbed in the fact that I was sick. I shed tears and even started looking for reasons not to be in school,” she narrated her story at the forum.

Jephas Opiyo*,16 (not his real name) also faced a similar predicament. He says he realised teachers discuss him in the staff room due to his status.

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“Whenever I enter the staff room, I always feel that all teachers are staring at me. When I leave, they start talking about me loudly. This has really made me have low self esteem,” he says.

A parent whose child is infected says that sometimes it is difficult to imagine how her child is taken care of while in school.

“Sometimes I feel like just being with her at home so that she does not undergo stigmatisation. Teachers shoud ensure these children are not troubled at school because of their status,” she says.

The Ministry of Education however, defended itself claiming they have given guidelines and policies as pertains to learners who have HIV/Aids.

“Schools should provide skills based education on prevention of endemic conditions as well as care of affected and infected persons. They should also keep comprehensive data of those infected,” said acting Deputy Director Education Standards and Quality Assurance, Susan Njau

Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) official Nicollate Awuor said adolescents account for a large number of new infections worldwide.

“They are also among those who face a lot of stigma, discrimination, and obstacles to HIV care and treatment,” she said.

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