“Your testing kit is fake and faulty!” were the first words that 26-year-old Kimutai Kemboi uttered when an HIV test he took ‘to pass time’ turned out positive.
That was two years ago. He walking home one day when met a group of youth counsellors conducting mobile voluntary counselling and testing and one of them asked him to get tested.
He had been confident of a negative result but took the test anyway.
When asked to interpret his results less than ten minutes later, the two lines that meant that he was HIV positive caused a dizzy spell. He assumed it was because he had skipped lunch that day and he walked out of the clinic deaf to the beckons of the counsellor to return.
That night, he wrestled with the dark looking for refined answers on the likely source of his HIV infection.
As the thoughts tumbled through his mind, he resolved to take repeat tests as a confirmation that the previous HIV test was defective.
“It was going to be a long night,” he remembers.
A first, second, third and fourth test the following morning confirmed he was HIV positive.
He sat through the counselling sessions but most of the time he just stared at the ceiling. He was sad, bitter, confused and angry!
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
A quiet moment of introspection that evening took him back to an older woman who had employed him at her home the previous year.
The promise of a sponsorship had turned damp when his ‘hostess’ lost her job and she relocated to her rural home leaving young Kemboi stranded.
He returned to menial jobs to save money that could sustain him in the big city.
“I got infected by an older lady. Just one encounter. I was naive and believed that she would pay for my studies.”
The bitterness rose to taste like bile in his mouth.
“I hated her. I wanted to revenge. How could she destroy my life?
“One thing that disturbed me was that she intentionally infected me. I thought of a way of revenging but with time I forgave her. She died the same year from opportunistic infections.”
For ten months, Kemboi did not share his HIV status with anyone but this secretive live became unbearable.
CHOSE TO RISE ABOVE IT ALL
But he chose to rise above it all.
“What was literally meant to kill me turned out to be harmless, a condition that could be totally managed.”
Today, this second year Computer Science student at Catholic University of East Africa has an unrelenting pursuit to create awareness on HIV to his peers.
His message is clear: that relationships with ‘sugar daddies and mummies’ make the young people vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
November marks the second anniversary since he knew his HIV status and he admits that it marked his life’s turn-around since he went public about his HIV status in January this year.
“I kept my anti-retrovirals and antibiotics hidden because I did not want to questions from my room mates and friends,” he says.
ISOLATION DID NOT LAST LONG
The isolation did not last long and he decided to share his status with his elder brother who informed their family members.
“The power of love from my mother and siblings restored my hope in life. They encouraged me and opened the door through which I shared my HIV status with the world,” says Kemboi who is the last born in a family of five.
He joined the Anza Sasa programme that encourages those who test HIV positive to get ARV treatment regardless of their CD4 count.
In the past, only those with a CD4 count of 500 and below were eligible for treatment. CD4 is a laboratory test that measures of how well the immune system is working.
“I take my medicine in the morning and evening with pride. I do not carry the shame of being HIV positive anymore because I know that I have won against self-imposed sigma,” says Kemboi.
His message to his peers is to keep off transactional relationships where an older person gives material or financial to them expectation of reciprocation with sex.
On his Facebook page, Kemboi bravely wears the title of an Anti-Stigma Ambassador and uses the page to run daily motivational messages, keeping his friends in touch with his advocacy campaigns.
“There is nothing you can offer to a HIV positive person than a shoulder to lean on, and being encouraging, supportive and caring. Accommodate and love them unconditionally. Love is free, give it entirely," Kimutai on his page in October 2017.
The writer is health and medicine Editor at The Conversation Africa
HIV AND 'SPONSORS'
Intergenerational sex is a driver of HIV infections in young women women. In South Africa, these older and wealthier women and men are referred to as ‘blessers’ because they bless the young person with airtime, money and other lavish gifts.
Sociologist Loice Noo agrees that in such relationships, the older person has an agenda to take advantage of the younger person because of the latter’s vulnerability.
“Young people seek fulfilment and affirmation daily. They need mentors who can guide them from getting into such relationships with sugar-mummies and sugar daddies because they have no future,” she said in an interview with the Nation.co.ke.
In a joint UN report on preventing HIV/Aids in young people, a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, lack of education and life skills, poor access to health services and commodities, early sexual debut and early marriage were identified as some of the factors that increased the vulnerability to HIV.
Other reasons include sexual coercion and violence, trafficking and growing up without parents or other forms of protection from exploitation and abuse.