Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shot@Life Trip Blog: Rosemary's family (note: discussion of HIV testing)

photo by Stephanie Geddes

Let me introduce you to a family I met at church yesterday. These are Rosemary's children.
  • Fiona,  2 1/2 yrs seated with me wearing a denim dress
  • Victor 3 1/2 yrs wearing denim jeans and a blue shirt with his back to us
  • Juliette 4 years, 8 months in a gold and black dress
  • Ronald 7 yrs old behind Victor
  • Sara 11 yrs is wearing a pink dress
(Sara's friend is hanging out, too, in a blue dress) All of these kids attend a school that is less than 1/2 kilometer from their home. All have received their vaccinations and passed their health screenings with flying colors. You can see Fiona's blue vaccination record card in her hand.

        photo by Stephanie Geddes
Rosemary herself is in the brown dress behind Fiona and me. She is 36 years old. She does not have a paying job, but stays at home raising the children and caring for the house. Her husband is a businessman in the maize business.

Rosemary's family is actually pretty well off by the standards of most families we were meeting. They live in a house with 3 bedrooms and an outdoor latrine. They have a tap outside with clean water on their own property. They own four cows and a few goats, so there is always milk for the children. Their garden grows cabbage and "dodo" - I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong - which is a green leafy vegetable. The children eat three times a day (none of them measured underweight at the Family Health Day upper arm measurement table). Sometimes they even get meat even though Juliette and Fiona don't like to eat it.

All of it sounds pretty good, right? It does, but there is an area of uncertainty for them on this Family Health Day. Neither Rosemary nor her husband have been tested to know their HIV status. In fact, in these pictures I'm playing with the kids while Rosemary stands in line to get tested. No wonder that her expression and the woman behind her is not so cheery. Unfortunately, an unknown status is not uncommon for this community and Rosemary is to be commended for her bravery. There is still a stigma attached to a positive result and many women do not wish to be tested for fear that their husbands will turn them out of the house and divorce them, blaming it on the woman despite the norm that it is usually the men who are unfaithful.
                                                                                                                    photo by Stephanie Geddes
The healthcare workers at the Family Health Day told us they are making a special campaign push to encourage husbands and wives to be tested together at worship services because that is often when they are together. At health clinics, they tend to come alone. If they both find out they are HIV positive at the same time, they will probably "have happy lives" says Dr. Edward. The doctor is pictured here answering questions from me and Jen Burden, founder of World Moms Blog, in the room where HIV testing was conducted before church let out. He told us that getting people to follow best practices about HIV/AIDS is a bigger problem for them than getting people to practice safe sex for pregnancy reasons. The availability of anti-retroviral medications (ARV's) to help people live with AIDS has an odd social side effect. It helps people maintain a good appearance (they no longer look sick) and work even though they are HIV positive, which makes them feel like they are fine. Therefore, they don't bother to use condoms or practice abstinence in their relationships, methods that would prevent transmission to others. People are more concerned about a pregnancy that everyone would know about than an HIV condition that they can easily hide. This is a huge social problem and the women who are leaders in the community all told us they know it and are worried. They want more medical and emotional support for those women who step up and admit they are HIV positive and they want the transmission to stop.

I can't tell you the end of Rosemary's story. I don't know her status and it wouldn't be for me to tell such a sensitive thing, but I think you can see with such a vibrant family of young children, she has a lot riding on her answer. She's doing a lot right for herself and her family. Join me in wishing her all the best in their journey together.

No comments: