Friday, May 21, 2010

HIV-positive mom, with 6 HIV-positive children

Wow, this story is heartbreaking. New Vision reporter Nigel Nassar visited a mother of nine children who is HIV-positive. Six of her nine children are also HIV-positive. We found the article at All Africa.

Nakitende and some of her children outside the shack which could collapse any time

Agnes Nakitende is HIV-positive. Six of her nine children also have the virus. At just 33, she is weather-beaten, you would think she was a 50-year-old.

The man I asked for directions to her place referred to her as "the woman who was cursed!" Nakitende lives in Kirwanyi village, Seeta Nazigo, Mukono district.

She confirms that many refer to her that way, then breaks down sobbing: "Why me, Lord?"

For close to a decade, she and her late husband Alfred Malinga, a police constable, had been using local herbs to treat what they thought was syphillis.

But when her husband's nails started rotting; the skin changing colour and developing a gooey rash, Nakitende took him to hospital. That was April 2009.

The two had lived together for 16 years with plans to marry legally.

An HIV test showed that the virus had 'eaten up' a big proportion of Malinga's white blood cells. The anti-retroviral drugs administered over the subsequent four months did not help.

On September 8, 2009 at a health centre in Mukono, the ailing Malinga asked the nurse to call in his wife who was six months pregnant with their ninth child.

"He held my hand onto his chest and asked me to feel his heartbeat dwindle.

With tears running down my cheeks, I slipped into his deathbed beside him and put my arms around him, just when he whispered, 'take good care of my children', and went silent," Nakitende recalls.

Now, four months since Nakitende found out that her children were HIV-positive, the sick, helpless mother, is not sure what to feed them on. She is jobless, yet her husband died broke.

This is a case of HIV/AIDS amidst abject poverty. And this poverty threatens to claim their lives even before AIDS does.

If it turns out that the other three children are also HIV-positive (God forbid), it will be a family of 10, waiting to die if they are not helped.

Nakitende and her children live in a dilapidated shack on the low lying slopes of Mirembe hill. They moved here just days before Malinga breathed his last, having been evicted from a rental in the neighbourhood for non-payment.

All the money was going towards Malinga's treatment. Malinga had saved sh2m from his meagre income as a police constable and bought this small plot of land.

He and Nakitende had planned to rear pigs and chicken for commercial purposes in case they got start-up capital in the future.

Supported by mud walls on one end and dry banana leaves on another, the wobbly shack looks like it will collapse any time.

Children going to schools in the neighbourhood call Nakitende's children "kids from a piggery."

The shack does not have a door. Nakitende says dogs, monkeys, snakes and other wild animals are a common sight in the shack. By God's grace, they have never hurt any of her children.

In what she turns into a joke, she cites an incident when she got back from the garden and found her two-year-old baby feeding all the potatoes they had kept for lunch to a monkey. "That day we went without food."

The partly grass-thatched roof leaks. When it rains, it gets water-logged, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes, exposing the children to malaria.

On this visit, only the four little ones, aged between four months and seven years, were at home.

The other five, aged between nine and 15, had gone out to run errands around the village so they could earn some money to buy food for the family. When the children are unsuccessful, the family eats boiled leaves, or goes days without food.

"We used to beg from neighbours, but they have also got fed up of us," Nakitende says, adding that she cannot wait for the maize she recently planted to yield.

At this point, Nakitende is overcome by emotion and suddenly stops talking. The hardened façade is betrayed by tears rushing down her cheeks.

Now, all Nakitende has turned to for help is God. A born-again Christian, Nakitende, who attends the neighbouring Zion Church, says something happens when she prays.

"Like last night when I had nothing to give the children, I prayed two hours for a miracle and here you are," she says to me. "This money you have given us, though you call it little, will take us for some days, and hopefully, the story you're going to write will turn up a Good Samaritan."

She says her church's pastor, David Musoke, has helped her with food, as well as giving her lots of spiritual uplifting.

She is now on anti-retroviral therapy.

As we conclude, Nakitende says a prayer to send me off on a journey of about 35km back to Kampala, before she starts peeling sweet potatoes. And while she is at it, the four children around, some emaciated, huddle around her - all hungry and waiting for the food.

I cannot help but wonder what will happen to these children should Nakitende pass away.

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