Woes of HIV positive children during Covid-19 pandemic

Orpha Kwamboka, addressing the press at Angelic Ark Centre at Bomatara village, Nyakoe Ward in Kisii County. The facility is a haven of peace to 30 orphans, 90 percent of whom are living with HIV/Aids. 

It is a big challenge to run a children’s home without support from well-wishers. It is even a bigger challenge to run such a facility if the children are HIV positive, more so in the era of Covid-19.

            Located in Bomatara village, Nyakoe Ward in Kisii County, Angelic Ark Centre is a haven of peace to 30 orphans, 90 percent of who are living with HIV/Aids.

            According to Violet (not her real name), the home lacks basic facilities like water and food which are vital during the coronavirus pandemic as stated by the Ministry of health.

            Violet explains how they fetch water from a nearby spring owned by the community, who not only stigmatize the children because of their condition, but this also exposes them to the risk of contracting Covid-19 infection due to their already vulnerable health condition.

            Violet says her mother passed on three years ago, but she could not live with the disabled father because he was very poor and could neither take care of her in her condition, nor take her to school.

            She says she was grateful when the facility rescued her when she was at the verge of dropping from school.

            Violet is now appealing to the society to assist the facility where many like her can find love and peace.

             Another beneficiary in class seven, Tom (not her real name) recounts the woes that befell him after he was orphaned by HIV/Aids, including living with his poor grandmother before he was rescued into the facility four years ago.

            He narrates how he had defaulted taking his medication severally because he did not want people to know about his condition before he joined the facility.

            However, he found social support from others like him at the centre and was encouraged after realizing he was not alone.

            The Director and founder of the facility Francis Asaka says he and his wife who, is a nursing officer, were moved to start the facility after realizing many children went to collect medication from the clinic, but never took them either because they forgot, or feared stigmatization.

            He cites various challenges including, lack of transport to take those ill to the hospital especially during the night curfew hours, lack of funds for medical complications which are not HIV-related, few structures and a small portion of land, where they farm vegetables, and poultry to supplement what the community offers.

            Asaka decries sharing of beds by up to three children adding it was not conducive during the Covid-19 pandemic.

            The facility has a female worker Orpha Kwamboka who mothers the children and runs basic chores with the children.             Kwamboka says she has to wake up at 6:00am to give medication for those that must take and to prepare breakfast of porridge or tea and sweet potatoes depending on what is available.

            The mother figure says such children must be reminded to take their medication because sometimes they forget.

            To her, lack of food supplies and proper nutrition is a big challenge during the pandemic.

            Moreover, Heavy rains that frequently pound the area affect the cooking process, especially because the source of energy for cooking is basically firewood and the kitchen is open structure that barely has a roof.

            Programme Manager Amisi Oyunge notes that one of the facility director was a nurse who assisted with the health matters of the children most of who were born with HIV.

            He explains that all the primary school children learnt in public institutions but those in secondary (5 of them) were in boarding schools.

            Oyunge has  appealed to well-wishers to help increase infrastructure to relieve the congestion and to enable accommodation of more children, construct a borehole and building a social hall for the community.

            The facility stands on a ¼ acre of land housing the children who are aged between 3 and 21 years, although half of the population has been forced to locate their relatives and live with them during the pandemic season.

            Other workers at the institution include a house mother and a shamba boy.