In my research work with children living with HIV in Kenya, I
like to begin by hearing their voices. When we tackle a new problem
related to children's health here, we usually start by listening.
We listen to our children and their parents and caregivers share
what this problem means for them in this particular place. Their
stories, their voices.
Our latest listening centers around the stigma faced by children
and families living with HIV. In the 8 years I have been doing this
work here, I have heard over and over how HIV-related stigma shapes
families' entire lives - from how they deal with the challenge of
taking HIV medicines every day to how they arrange their child
care. With one of our new projects, we are finally focusing on what
this stigma really means for children here.
Today, I listened to a group of adolescents who know that they
have been infected with HIV for their entire lives talk about this
stigma. And they told the stories of the voices that they hear
All around them are voices of stigma, of discrimination. Voices
that would layer them in shame and separateness.
Listen to these voices with me. These are their exact words:
When children your age
talk about HIV, what do they say?
They say that people with HIV
are so thin.
They say that if you have HIV,
you are going to die.
They say that if you share
toilets, you will get HIV.
They say that those who have HIV
They say that you only get HIV
if you are a prostitute.
They say that those with HIV
will just die.
So many of the voices around our children tell them that
terrible things will happen if anyone knows that you have HIV. The
voices give them a hundred reasons to hide, a hundred reasons to
feel ashamed and alone.
How do other children
react if they know that a child has HIV?
They tell other
They refuse to play with
They separate themselves from
They run away from you.
They insult you.
When they know that you have
HIV, they will look down upon you. If you try to borrow anything
from them, they will never give you anything.
They will chase you away so that
you don't sit next to them.
Others will tell you openly -
"don't touch me!"
They hate you.
Darling, beautiful children, we try to tell you that you are
precious. How I hope that our voices at the clinic at least tell
you that you can be healthy and strong, that you can have hope and
a future. How I hope that you hear other voices telling you that
you are deeply loved. How I hope there are other voices.
Please, world, raise your voices.