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Wonder drugs that keep families together

He is simply called "the Orphan". He is the nameless 14-year-old who lives with his aunt Mary Adiamborogo, 35, a frail young widow and her two children in Manyatta, a suburban village in Kisumu in western Kenya. Sanchita Sharma writes.

india Updated: Jun 23, 2012 23:40 IST
Sanchita Sharma

He is simply called "the Orphan". He is the nameless 14-year-old who lives with his aunt Mary Adiamborogo, 35, a frail young widow and her two children in Manyatta, a suburban village in Kisumu in western Kenya.

I'm sure he has a name, but he seems to prefer to be called the Orphan. When I ask him his name, he looks away, perhaps because he knows my attempting to put a name to his situation would not make it any better.

He is one of Kenya's 2.6 million orphans, of whom 1.2 million children under 17 years have lost their parents to AIDS. By the end of 2011, 1.5 million people were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, of which 180,000 are children under 14, shows UNAIDS data.

The Orphan lost both his parents when he was young. He doesn't know what killed them, but only what it meant to his life. He moved in with his uncle, who died soon after of AIDS. So the Orphan ended up with his aunt her two children.

He's dropped out of school, as have his two young cousins. Adiamborogo is too sick to work because she has HIV and tuberculosis, which infects 60% of people living with HIV because they have precariously low immunity.

A cocktail of AIDS and tuberculosis drugs have saved her from near-death early this year. "One day, I fell from bed and could not get up. I was in pain and told my family to leave me to die," she recalls. She has no family to look after her children, and worries they will become another orphan statistic should she succumb to her illness.

Help for her came in the form of Pamela Anyengo, a community health-worker who told her the tuberculosis could got visits Adiamborogo each day to make sure she takes her drugs to treat tuberculosis and AIDS.

Kisumu county has the worst health indicators in Kenya, with more than one in 30 women and HIV prevalence of 14.9% (compared to Kenya's 7.1%). Like in most parts of the developing world, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people who are HIV positive. In Kenya, 95% of TB patients had HIV in 2009, the last year for which data is available.

But you don't have to be an orphan to be denied an education. Infectious diseases push thousands of Kenyans out of school and into poverty, defined as living under US$1 a day (8,000 Kenyan shillings). Atiego, 16, lives in a slum called Kibera in Nairobi with her mother and five other siblings. Three are adopted, orphans Atiego's mum took in after her sister and her husband died of unknown causes.

Atiego's died many years ago. She doesn't remember when. Her mum Monica Acheieng is just 30 years old and leaves home every morning to sit outside apartment buildings with many women like her in hope of being hired as domestic help that would get her 200-300 KS - $4-6 - to feed herself and her six children.

Atiego does not want to marry. "If I want kids, I'd just take orphans from the streets and live with them. There are so many of them," she says.

Unlike in India where few people admit to having HIV or even havng met someone infected with it, it is almost impossible to find a Kenyan who doesn't have a friend, family or neighbour living with HIV or dying of AIDS. Compared to India gee sis very little stigma, though some, like Maria Ananyango, 39, have lost heir jobs. Anyango worked a hair salon before she was sacked. She, however, still gets private clients at home, who are not bothered by her HIV status.

Stigma goes down after a critical mass is affected, say experts, but when they are treatable infection such as HIV and tuberculosis, it doesn't make sense to wait for everyone to get struck down before seeking treatment that can get you back on your feet.

Health Editor Sanchita Sharma is travelling in Kenya on the International Reporting Project's Kenya Gatekeeper Editor's Trip 2012.