Earlier this year, an estimated 17 000 youths between the ages of 10 and 19 were reported to be living with HIV in Namibia. Learning that you are HIV positive, at an early age, can be one of the most difficult experiences that one can go through in life. And in Namibia, there are still people who are ignorant about HIV/AIDS, as they associate the transmission to bad sexual practices only. However, it is worth noting that HIV comes in different ways, one which has been silent but surely coming to light is the transmission of the virus from the mother to the child.
Twelve-year-old Diana [not her real name] is a living testimony of such incidence.
Diana was diagnosed with the virus in December 2014 when she started getting ill regularly. Her mother, narrates that that was the only time they found out that she was HIV positive when she fell ill in 2014. “She was in in the North when she fell ill and my parents took her to the clinic and that is when she tested HIV positive. Upon her return from the North, I was told to take her to a clinic in Windhoek. I took her to Robert Mugabe Clinic and she was immediately put on medication,” says the mother.
The mother says when she found out about the pregnancy with Diana, she tested for HIV in the North, but unfortunately had to come to Windhoek and thus could not receive her test results.
According to the mother, Diana’s condition was stable at the time of diagnosis until October 2015 when she became ill again. “When we went to the hospital she was diagnosed with anaemia. The doctors then decided to transfuse blood,” she explains.
In December 2015, Diana was again admitted. The doctors kept running tests to identify the problem but could however not trace the cause of Diana’s deteriorating condition. She was referred to Central hospital where she was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and was subsequently put on TB treatment for a period of nine months.
In February, Diana was once again admitted and this time around the doctor decided to extract fluids from her waist to find out why her tummy was swelling up. “Her stomach started swelling in May 2015. During the morning, it is usually fine but eventually swells when she eats,” narrates the mother.
Unfortunately, the fluid samples got lost and, therefore, could not be sent to South Africa for examination. In June, this year, the doctors diagnosed that Diana had a swollen liver. “The doctors are saying that they are unable to identify the problem that is causing the deterioration of Diana’s health apart from the swollen liver and the nutrients that are lacking in her body.”
Both of Diana’s parents are unemployed and her mother lost her job due to the hospital responsibilities. “I was working for G4S as a security and I applied for leave to take care of her when she was admitted in the hospital. They approved my leave but when I went back to resume work they informed me that someone had already replaced me. Afterwards I tried selling kapana but could not keep up because I was always up and down with hospitals,” narrates Diana’s mother.
The mother of three says only the first two children are infected with the virus but the last one is in good health.
The narrative of little kids being humiliated because of a disease they inherited still exists in Namibia and Diana is no exception. Diana says that she has started noticing stigma at school. “I am starting to notice it because every time I try to sit next to someone for a chat they always move to a different seat. I also just go back to my seat,” she says.
However, Diana acknowledges that one of her peers always lends her a helping hand. “Sometimes when she notices that my bag is too heavy for me she helps me carry it to the next class and only gives it to me to take out my books and as we go to the next class she comes to get it again.” Diana also narrates how her peers hardly share snacks with her saying that at times they pass her by to share with the others, which she sadly cannot have a say on.
Asked whether she has friends in their street, Diana says that she never feels like playing. She, therefore, spends her days seated at home. As the virus keeps ravaging her body, Diana says that she does not have strength and can also not run even short distances. “Sometimes when I sit for a long time I always feel like falling backwards. I cannot even carry my seven-month-old brother. I have never picked him up ever since he was born. I really have the desire to pick him up but I do not have the strength,” says Diana.
Diana says that her appetite is very good although she gets different cravings. “Sometimes I just wake up craving for certain food. For the past days I have been craving for potatoes. I do not like eating cold food; I prefer eating when the food is still warm because that’s the only time I eat very well. Sometimes I would just want sauce without soup but rather just with oil and salt.”
Furthermore, her mother claims not to have been registered with the food bank. “We tried to register but we were unsuccessful. We tried to register when we were still staying in Okuryangava. When we relocated to Goreangab they said that they are done with registrations and will only commence next year again.”
To her credit Diana shows plenty of emotional strength and courage. Aspiring to become an English teacher, Diana says that she wants to teach the generation that comes after her. Diana also has a dream to meet the Founding father, Dr Sam Nujoma as well as the First Lady of Namibia. “I am impressed by the wonderful things that they are doing for the people,” she says with a smile.
“We hear of people receiving donations but we do not get any. It gets you thinking why some people are receiving blankets and houses but we do not get anything. We don’t have electricity we are just struggling,” she says.
The smart and cheerful Diana says that when she commences Grade Seven next year, she wants to start her academic year with enough stationery. “I am always short of school stationery because sometimes I tell my mother not to mind about those and buy food instead.”
Diana encourages whoever finds herself in a similar situation to commit to praying, take their medication well and they will be fine.
“Being positive doesn’t mean you should hide,” she says.