Eric Munyiri: My mother refused to abort me

Jane Ngina and her son Eric Munyiri [File, Standard]

When Dr Joe Muriuki became the first Kenyan to declare he was HIV positive, his wife was three months pregnant with a son in 1989.

Though Jane Ngima, then only 26, tested negative, doctors advised that an abortion was the best route under the circumstances.

Doctors argued that even though she had tested negative eight times during her pregnancy, the son was definitely going to be HIV positive and die within the first few weeks of birth. She refused to procure the abortion.

“They are supposed to be professionals,” recalled Eric Munyiri in an earlier interview, “yet they condemned me to death and exposed my parents to ridicule.”

Mr Munyiri was not only born HIV free, but he went on to be among the top-100 students at position 90 (with 459 out of 500 marks) in Central Kenya in the 2003 KCPE.

He scored an A-minus in the 2007 KCSE exams, but all that would be dead as a Dodo had his mother been cowed by medics. “I owe my life to my parents,” says Munyiri. He says that “even close relatives wanted my mum to procure an abortion.” 

Munyiri proceeded to the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology where he graduated with a Bachelors’ degree in landscaping technology in 2015.

The family has come a long way from the time Munyiri was denied admission owing to his father’s HIV status.

At one point, his mother who was a teacher, organised for Munyiri’s admission. When parents and pupils found out who he was, they planned a protest. “The head teacher told me he was under instructions not to let me in. I was told that only the Education minister could handle my case,” recalled 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.

Ngima was also often transferred before she eventually sacked.

Munyiri is still bitter over what had transferred before he was born:  “I have wanted to meet the doctors and ask them tough questions. If I was a threat to my mum’s life then, that decision could have been justified, but was I?” he posed. 

In recalling that trying time when his wife was pregnant and all quarters were gunning for an abortion, Dr Muriuki recalled that the stigma surrounding HIV was such that nobody gave them a reason to be hopeful, as doctor after doctor advised them to prepare for the worst.

But like his late father, Munyiri rarely got sick as “interestingly my immunity is strong to keep me off doctors. I can’t remember the last time I visited hospital or was seriously ill and needed to see a doctor.”

That doctors had recommended his abortion made Munyiri to be wary of experts and “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 negatively to malaria medication.