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MY STORY: Born to survive

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By SIMON MBURU
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Doreen Moraa Mochaba was born HIV-positive. The 25-year-old contracted the virus from her mother.

“She was HIV positive but my father was HIV negative,” says Doreen. “We don’t know if I got it during birth or through breastfeeding.”

Her parents have lived as a discordant couple for over 30 years now and have had five children. “We are now four because the fourth born succumbed to HIV/Aids in 1999. I am the third-born in the family,” she says.

Doreen learnt she was HIV positive in 2005, at age 13. At the time, she was preparing for her KCPE exams. Her parents had kept her diagnosis a secret for five years because they feared that she was too young to cope.

That year, Doreen and her mother became sickly. Her mother ended up hospitalised in a coma. Doreen had a blistering shingles on the left side of her face that were spreading towards her eye. “I had lost weight and looked sickly, while my mother was in and out of hospital before the coma,” she says. After a series of tests, Doreen was diagnosed with herpes zoster – a viral disease that results in painful rashes and blisters – and admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

“I was not very alarmed when the doctors at KNH told me that I was HIV positive. At my tender age, this sounded like good news. This was because we would regularly take trips from our home in Chebilat at the Sotik and Borabu border to Nairobi for treatment and medicines. My mum would buy me sweets and other gifts. That I would also not need to take injections was music to my ears,” she says.

Doreen began to realise the impact of the virus when she joined secondary school. “I had really worked hard and gotten an admission at a boarding school. My parents, though, said that I would be joining a nearby day school where they would monitor me,” she says.

Her parents were afraid that teachers and students would find out she was HIV positive and stigmatise her.

But Doreen was so adamant that she wanted to have her secondary education in a boarding school that her parents caved in and in Form Two, they took her to Tala Girls in Machakos. They agreed on how she could sneak in her antiretrovirals. “They told me to lie that I had a heart condition if any student raised questions,” says Doreen.

Doreen completed Form Four and was hoping to train as an air hostess. “When I went to apply for my course, the receptionist at the aviation school told me that I could never be an air-hostess because I had a scar on the left side of my face,” she says.

Disappointed, she changed her career choice and decided to go for a TV and radio broadcast course in hope that she could become a radio presenter.

She was dissuaded by her uncle who worked in the media industry. He cautioned her that once she got into radio and started making headway, people would start to dig up her life, discover that she had HIV, and result to mockery, stigmatisation, and mud-slinging. “This crushed me,” she says.

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Word began to spread of a Tanzanian herbalist-cum-witchdoctor who had discovered a drug that cured all diseases including HIV/Aids. “All you had to do was take a Sh100 concoction which was claimed to cure every ailment,” she says. Doreen and her mother joined the hundreds of people flocking Loliondo, in June 2011. The whole journey cost them Sh20,000.

“We were told that there was no need to continue taking our antiretroviral drugs. We were healed, Babu said!” But a few weeks after returning home, Doreen’s mother started getting sick as opportunistic diseases had a field day. “My mum suggested that we take a test to see if Babu’s mug had healed us but I refused. Deep down, I was afraid that my result would come out positive again. I didn’t know if I could survive it,” she says. Her mother came back with a positive result. She told Doreen that Babu was a conman and asked her to resume taking her medication. “I said I would but I didn’t. For the next two years, I turned my back on my anti-retrovirals as depression and desperation overwhelmed me,” she says. “I felt hopeless and just wanted my life to come to an end,” she says.

Between 2014 and 2015, she was taken to Machakos Level 5 Hospital and Kericho District Hospital where she received treatment and counselling. “This was my turning point. It dawned on me that it was not so much that I had HIV, but how well I wanted to mould my life. I decided not to let desperation and depression take me down,” says Doreen, who now works with a website development company in Nairobi.

While she has dated like any other woman, dating has not been easy. “Dating lays the burden of disclosure solely on your shoulders,” she says. Over the past few years, Doreen has loved, been loved, heartbroken and broken hearts in equal measure. “There are relationships that have ended even before they solidly set off because of my status. There are others that have terminated due to reasons other than my status,” she says. “I don’t believe that I am limited to a cadre of less worthy men simply because I’m HIV positive. I go for the finest, and if it is not working, I let it go. I have dreams to be successful, have my own family and raise my own children. Most of all, I have a dream that someday, the stigma and negative perceptions around persons living with HIV shall be no more,” she says.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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