Erick Okioma, 53, who lives with HIV has dedicated his life to create awareness of the disease and reduce infection rates especially among the youth in Kisumu city.
I serve the community in different advocacy programmes on HIV/Aids, TB, malaria and HIV/TB prevention research as well as working with those infected and affected by HIV and Aids.
When I discovered I had HIV in 2003, I thought my life had come to an end. The revelation came at a time when I was going through a very difficult time in my life.
It was barely two years after I lost my mother and my job and was still trying to come to terms with the reality before I fell sick and was admitted at a Hospital in Kisumu.
I did not suspect I had HIV, despite showing signs as early as 2001, I thought it was a normal sickness because doctors in all the hospitals I visited treated me for malaria. I used a lot of money seeking treatment and was not getting any better and this prompted my wife to suggest to me that I should be tested for HIV.
At the time, I was really weak and thin. Not only was my wife tasked with caring for our three children but also a bedridden husband who could little to support his family. Despite my sorry state, the fear of stigma kept me unwilling to follow my wife’s suggestions and it was not until I had exhausted all options that I decided to have the HIV test done.
I was taken to Aids Rescue Center, currently known as Liverpool Voluntary and Testing Center (LVCT), where I was counseled before being tested. When the test results came back, my fears were confirmed, I was HIV positive and was immediately put on ARV drugs because my CD4 count was less than 200.
On my road to recovery, my friends advised me to join support groups and after sometime, I realised there were so many people living with the disease but were taking it positively. Through my interactions with such people, I was encouraged to stop living in denial.
I then came to the realisation that if I made my status known to the world, I would be creating awareness that will help reduce the number of infections. It was then I started encouraging people to get tested and just last month, with the help of some partners, we were able to convince about 250 youth from various slums in Kisumu to get tested.
My message is this: “Get tested, know your status and do not infect others”.