- I discovered I had contracted HIV after the demise of my husband in 1997. That was the time when stigma was real.
- People count their blessings but for me there is no greatest blessing than seeing my 24-year-old daughter grow up and become a mother.
It is not what you go with but what you leave behind long after you have joined your maker that matters.
Serah Mwangi is not your average high school teacher.
The 46-year-old has fought a bruising battle with cancer and also lives with HIV.
She contracted HIV early in her marriage life 22 years ago. The courageous English Literature teacher has not lost hope in life and is determined to enjoy every moment of it. She is now a symbol of hope to many who seem to be on the brink of giving up in life.
“I discovered I had contracted HIV after the demise of my husband in 1997. That was the time when stigma was real. Shaking hands with people they thought you would infect them.
“I was looking at my daughter who was then three years old and I saw a bleak future for her. I lost my mother when I was three years old and I grew up under a cruel stepmother. I was worried about the future of my daughter.
“That time there were no ARVs. I knew that I was going to die. During the mass I started visualising my coffin being wheeled to the front and even the funeral song that would accompany the procession would be, Pokea moyo wangu eeh Mungu wangu…. (Receive my soul O my God)
“I kept praying to God that my daughter grows up to Class Three.
“I completed my TB treatment of 60 injections and drugs after eight months. It was not easy. The injections were painful and every day when I woke up and remembered that I was going for one more, my heart shook. I was not going to give up though.
The pain of discipline is less than the pain of regret. They injected my backside until there was no more space. The next casualty was my thighs. Sitting down was a problem. I started gaining weight.
“When I went to church the coffin that I had envisioned earlier being wheeled near the altar turned into procession to partake the Holy Communion. The song that was to be sung during my funeral became a song of hope.
“Mid 1999, I develop an opportunistic infection on my backside. It was removed. I was to make subsequent visits for dressing the wound. I opted to visit a nearby clinic.
“The wound got infected and I had succumbed to bacterial meningitis which I was treated for.
“My husband was a foreigner he didn’t have insurance benefits. He left Sh60,000 which I bought drugs for one month. When I got employed, I started saving and with my first loan of Sh30,000 I bought a batch of ARVs.
“2005 brought the era of free ARVs but the stigma was still there. Going to the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Centre at Nakuru Provincial General Hospital to collect drugs was a physical and mental torture. I would go creeping in like a cockroach as I feared meeting someone I know and become a recipe for gossip. I had to be very cautious because I didn’t want the information to leak out and reach my daughter.
“I thought I was fully recovered and stopped going for them. In 2007, I went to collect drugs without fear. I was told I had to take another test. For the first time I heard the term viral load test. I took a test to measure the number of HIV particles (copies) in a millilitre of blood. The results revealed that my viral load was 1 million copies of viral load and a CD4 count of 37.
“This meant I was literally like a walking corpse. A healthy immune system normally has a CD4 count ranging from 500 to 1600 cells per cubic millimeter of blood cell. They changed the drugs and put me in the second line medication. One of the drugs was causing terrible nausea and vomiting.
“I was in-charge of the music club. I gathered courage to go to Eldoret for the music festivals. The journey was not interesting. I puked all the way and I soiled the Matatu.
“While in Eldoret, I called a friend who referred me to AMPATH clinic. I got a new dose of ARVs and the situation changed.