Widows in Kenya tackle HIV in their community

When Jacinta Mulatia tested positive for HIV in 2003 it came as a shock to her, she was confused and unsure what to do when faced with extreme stigma in her community.

When Jacinta Mulatia tested positive for HIV in 2003 it came as a shock to her, she was confused and unsure what to do when faced with extreme stigma in her community.

A widow, mother of one son and grandmother of two, Jacinta eventually found the courage to acknowledge her status and, together with other people living with HIV in her community, decided to start a support group in order to share experiences and to encourage each other.

Jacinta, 62, who is a retired teacher from Kibwezi community in Makueni county, Kenya, said: “After disclosing my status and sharing my story on television, my son was victimised and sacked from his job.” But even after that happened she didn’t lose hope and her dream is to make sure that young people don’t go through what she went through.

Dealing with stigma

In Kenya, people living with HIV in the past have tended to be hidden behind a curtain, either afraid or ashamed of their status due to humiliation and discrimination. This silence made women in particular become more vulnerable to HIV since there wasn’t enough education about how to take care of themselves, or how to protect their families and unborn babies.

The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) partners with Kenya’s Ministry of Health and other health organisations to train and empower communities through health education and life skills.

Jacinta is one of their beneficiaries and a representative of Stay Alive for Us All (SAFUA), an initiative involving more than 100 members, many of whom are widows and people living with HIV from Kibwezi community.

Since the SAFUA project started in 2004, Jacinta explained that the maternal death rate has reduced by 70 per cent due to awareness raising and training. Through AMREF and its partners, the women have gained important life skills and the men have also been included which has seen a positive impact on families, including parents educating their children about using condoms. Midwives have been trained to take care of pregnant women and to help them before and during childbirth as they guide and counsel them.

Jacinta is also involved with a project where 30 widows have set up a home for orphans making a positive impact on many lives in Kibwezi.

Kenyan healthcare

Since the start of the Millennium Development Goals many local organizations, with the help of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and non-governmental organizations, have provided support to the Kenyan people, especially in rural contexts.

Community health workers have been empowered and trained to build their knowledge of HIV prevention, care and treatment. Now communities are in a much better position to face HIV head on and without fear, due to their increased knowledge of how to look after their health.

But despite these advances, there are still many healthcare problems facing the continent of Africa. A strategic direction is critical at this point as the post 2015 development agenda evolves. Better healthcare, decreasing poverty and upgrading the living standards of communities should all be on governments’ lists of priorities.

Read more about HIV and the post 2015 development agenda