Jacinta Muthoni Gitau, a CHS supported peer educator from Gikui Health Centre in Murang’a County affirms that she has gained inner peace and found her place in the society; having overcome the challenge of denial, stigma, discrimination and shame. Religious leaders, psychosocial groups, community leaders and school leaders now look up to her for HIV education trainings, individual and group motivational talks and HIV counselling in her community.
Jacinta first learnt of her HIV status in 1996 while attending antenatal clinic during her second pregnancy. She however believes she could have contracted the virus in 1992 when she got married; with her husband confessing that he contracted the disease back in the 80s. According to her husband, he met a church minister in 1988 who prayed for him and assured him that he had been healed. Following this ‘miracle’, her husband joined the church and it was here that he met Jacinta. They wedded in 1992.
After a while, Jacinta spoke to her husband about having a second child. He insisted that one was already enough and that they should not have another child. Jacinta however defied his word and secretly got pregnant; a decision that greatly angered her husband. During this time, her husband fell ill regularly but would always get better upon medication.
Jacinta began attending antenatal clinics and her husband was required to accompany her for a HIV test. He declined citing that they were partners and their results would therefore be the same. The result was positive, a great shock for Jacinta; she was unable to confront her husband. He later confessed to her that he was aware of his status but could not tell her. This was also the reason why he did not want them to have a second child. Their first child was HIV negative.
Neglected and Alone
In 1998, Jacinta and her husband moved to their rural home in Kangema where her husband passed on a few months later leaving her destitute with two children to care for and hostile relatives to endure.
Life was difficult given that at the time she had to travel from Kangema to Nairobi for prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) clinics for her youngest child who was one and a half years old as the service was not available at local health facilities. At the age of two, the child was declared HIV negative. Unfortunately for Jacinta, she could not afford antiretroviral drugs which were very expensive at the time and her health deteriorated significantly over the years. Her family neglected and stigmatised her; she had no one to turn to for help.
In 2006, the area chief came to Jacinta’s aid by way of sending his wife to take her to hospital after a serious bout of pneumonia. Her CD4 count was at a low of 60 cells/mm3 and she considers herself lucky to have begun medication before it was too late. Attending the clinic exposed her to other people with similar experiences and she now felt accepted in their midst. The Chief later recommended Jacinta to assist with home visits at the Kangema Comprehensive Care Centre (CCC) where they were looking for people to start a psychosocial group. It was from here that she was taken in by ICAP (CHS’s predecessor in health facility support in Central Province) as a peer educator. This helped Jacinta accept herself and even disclose her status to encourage others. CHS has since taken over from ICAP and continues to support peer educators like Jacinta to create impact in the community.
In her endeavour to promote adherence among persons living with HIV, Jacinta felt the need for a CCC at Gikui Health Centre since patients had to travel to Kangema Health Centre or Murang’a District Hospital for medication and psychosocial groups. She lobbied for this through the doctor in-charge at Gikui and with infrastructural, IEC (information, education and communication) materials and human resource support from CHS; a new CCC was introduced at Gikui Health Centre. Jacinta was later transferred to the facility where she currently works.
Impacting the Community
Jacinta recognises the significant role played by CHS through training and knowledge, mentorship, financial support and confidence to make a difference in her community as a peer educator. According to Jacinta, CHS has provided her with a profession and a chance to do what she values most; helping persons living with HIV. Her greatest motivation is when her clients embrace positive living through psychosocial support, adherence to treatment, good nutrition, safe sex practices and economic empowerment. She does this through trainings, home visits and psychosocial groups created to offer support for HIV positive persons.
“This vocation is my life and I cannot exchange it for anything else. I feel bad when people die of HIV due to stigma, ignorance and non-adherence”
Alongside like-minded persons from Gikui, Jacinta has been involved in the formation of two psychosocial support groups: IYEGO Network which covers Gikui location and Gikui Hope Group made up of members from Gikui CCC. These groups have a mission to fight: “stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and misaction” and promote: “safer practices, available medication, voluntary counselling and testing and knowledge on HIV (Empowerment)”.
On World AIDS Day 2013, Jacinta mobilised community members at a local church where a total of 60 people were tested for HIV.
Beyond Peer Education
Jacinta’s dedication to helping persons living with HIV is undeniable. During her off days, she often uses her time to give talks at various forums including trainings and radio stations in the locality. Her most memorable moments include being invited to the UN office to share her experience teaching women and girls about their rights after being trained by the Kenya Network of Religious Leaders Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS (Kenerela); and educating the masses on radio (Radio Maria and Kangema FM). She now intends to produce educational CDs to ensure that she reaches more people.
Peer Educators: A Link To The Community
Through training, mentorship and financial support from CHS, peer educators in Central Province have acquired a great level of knowledge on HIV, medication, adherence and positive living which they are utilising to save members of their community living with HIV.
CHS currently supports 118 adult peer educators, 30 adolescent peer educators and 28 mentor mothers.