July 11, 2021


She boldly told me she was HIV positive and every month she has to go for a refill of the ARVS from the local healthcare facility.

More by Terry Boke

My Dilemma: A HIV Positive House Help!

My Dilemma: A HIV Positive House Help!

I started employing house helps in June 2011 when I was almost due with my first born and to this day I have lost count of how many I have housed in my home. I used to think that employing other women to help you around the house was for the spoilt lazy girls and a luxury for the rich until I became a mother and needed a hand in my own house.

In this day and age, domestic managers, or as we fondly call them nannies or house helps have become part and parcel of every household. Throughout the years, I have had a chance to employ all calibre of girls and to date I have learnt to appreciate these girls/women’s assistance in every home. They are not a luxury but a necessity.

Covid-19 Adds to the Problem

The outbreak of Covid-19 made it very hard for most families to sustain their house helps because people lost jobs and others were subjected to pay cuts and some forced to work from home.

It was during this season of uncertainty that I had to release my Ugandan house help because I could not afford to continue paying her the agreed wages that I used to pay her when she came to work for me in September 2020. Betty was very good with her job and she knew how to take care of my babies, I was at peace leaving them with her and would even travel for days without worry. She was a good catch for me compared to the others I had been employing prior.

Trying to be a ‘Super Woman’

When Betty finally left and found another employer, I was left alone trying to be the super woman/magic mother and within a few days I was experiencing burnouts and was getting really irritable. There was just too much to do at work and at home.

I was a busy corporate woman with a job that was so demanding of my time and fullness of focus and so not having a nanny at any point of my life has almost become an impossibility and a big dilemma that keep affecting my performance at work because it is never easy being a working mum with young children at home that needs your full attention and care when you get back home in the evening with energy levels at -5%! It can be frustrating and emotionally draining at the same time.

Every time I didn’t have a helper in the house, it meant that I had to wake up very early, prepare breakfast, get the three kids ready for school then embark on preparing myself for work as well. By the time I used to see off the kids and get back to rush my sessions. It always felt like I was carrying a monkey on my back! It was tiring. It has not always been easy for me to find a perfect house help, well apart from Betty. My friends too have had a bitter share of experiences looking for good nannies. I embarked on searching for another house help that I could comfortably afford paying.

Enter ‘Penina’

It was at this point that I was introduced to ‘Penina’ in mid-February 2021. I had been told about her a month prior to meeting and engaging her but something didn’t feel right, my conscious was not very sure if she was the person I wanted to welcome to my home but the pressures and need of having someone to support me took me back to her cousin ‘Susan’ who had referred her to me.

I met Penina on a Thursday evening and we agreed that she would come the following day and start working; that is exactly what happened.

Everything was OK and Penina was a perfect definition of an angel. My kids adored her and they would fight over her . She was perfect in her work. She was respectful and very hardworking and trustworthy. I loved her myself and every time my friends called to complain about their troubles with their own nannies, I counted my blessings and said a thank you prayer a thousand times. In my 11 years of employing house helps I had never been so lucky to find someone like her.

‘Penina’ HIV Positive

It wasn’t until two months later that I realized that not all that glitters was gold after all. My dear Penina was HIV positive and she was on ARVS. She religiously took her drugs without failure and looking at her physically she had no sign of ill health! but I had noticed how much she complained of body pains and migraines that had become a frequent occurrence, and at one point we had to go for an early hospital visit and the doctor mentioned that she had a bad viral infection. I became worried especially for my young ones.

In her first month of stay ‘Penina’ had requested for permission to go and pick drugs from a hospital. I asked her which drugs she was going to get so that I could buy them for her on my way from work but she insisted that the drugs she needed have to be collected from the hospital and cannot be bought over the counter! The naïve me didn’t give it much thought and consideration of what it could possibly be and it never bothered me until the following month when she again requested to go to the hospital and collect another supply.

My Dilemma

I became curious and called her to the kitchen, locked the door and calmly asked her if she was sick and what she was suffering from. She boldly told me she was HIV positive and every month she has to go for a refill of the ARVS from the local healthcare facility. Her husband whom she is separated with is also HIV positive and is on drugs as well. “ I have been taking the ARVS for the last two years”, she told me.

Heaven knows I chose to remain calm and digest the news! But I was very conflicted and traumatized inside. A part of me wanted to instantly send Penina packing, but a big part of me chose to be humane because I believe in human rights and I am the kind of person who looks at people beyond their status. I have advocated for society to stop the stigma and discrimination of any kind and I was not going to take part in making another human being feel so small because they have a threatening health condition.

ARV’s in Short Supply

I told her it was OK for her to go get her medication because they were important.

Two days later Penina came to me and said she wanted to go to her rural home in Siaya. The reason behind her decision was because she was not successful in getting a month’s supply of the much-needed ARVs, the country was in a crisis and there was a looming shortage of the drugs.

According to ‘Penina’, it was easier for her to get the medication at her rural health facility than it was for her to get the same drugs in the city.

I sympathized with her and the other 1.5 million other Kenyans living with HIV who depend on these drugs for their survival. Yet a corrupt system that does not bother about its population’s health needs was holding a consignment of these drugs at the port.

Apart from the troubles of finding refills for her medication I also thought that Penina felt insecure after she revealed her status to me. She was scared that I may change and start seeing and treating her differently like a second-class citizen who didn’t have a place in society!

The highs and lows of living with HIV are not far from over. It is sad that 40 years later there has not been a single cure found and we can only wait and see how the HIV vaccines trials ongoing around the world and in our country will turn out.

As a country it’s important also if the government can invest in the local manufacturing of these antiretroviral drugs and stop relying on foreign nations for support with ARVS.

If we get a breakthrough in this, people like ‘Penina’ who are living with HIV will be at peace because there will always be enough supply for them to keep them going.


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