NAIROBI – Alice Atieno’s homestead, located at the edge of lush green plains that dot western Kenyan county of Kisumu, has lately become a prized destination for women living with HIV/AIDS keen on free therapeutic sessions.
The 36-year-old mother of four and living with HIV/AIDS in the last six years has earned accolades thanks to her tireless devotion to helping peers overcome stigma through bonding, peer learning and economic empowerment.
Currently in a discordant union since her husband is HIV-negative, Atieno has been a victim of injustices and double standards that are often meted on women living with the virus in a heavily patriarchal society. As a result, the community mobilizer has resolved to be at the frontline of promoting the plight of HIV-positive mothers through educating them on novel treatment, drugs adherence, savings and emotional health.
“As a founding member of a discordant couple’s support group in our locality, I have been encouraging mothers living with HIV/AIDS to seek treatment without fail while ensuring they are economically productive,” Atieno said during a recent interview with Xinhua ahead of World AIDS Day to be marked Wednesday.
She disclosed that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when disruptions became the norm, her HIV-positive peers started a savings and lending scheme, locally known as table banking, to tackle financial hardships.
According to Atieno, the pandemic’s related job and income losses escalated poverty among people living with AIDS, more so for women and youth, thus prompting them to come up with innovative remedies like table banking.
“The idea behind the formation of table banking was to bring HIV-positive mothers together, pull resources and bail each at a time many had lost jobs and their businesses were performing dismally,” said Atieno. During regular meetings at her homestead, the mothers have forged lasting bonds of friendships besides sharing knowledge and experience on managing their condition and improving their economic status.
Maurine Achieng, an HIV-positive mother of five, admitted that joining the support network has been transformative as reflected in her improved physical, financial and emotional health. At the early stages of discovering her positive status, she grappled with denial, self-pity and withdrawal but has gradually regained self-esteem thanks to encouragement from peers.
The 40-year-old smallholder farmer singled out table banking for rescuing her from financial ruin at the peak of the pandemic when revenue streams dried up, threatening to reverse gains made in managing her condition. “It is through bonding that HIV-positive mothers have gained strength required to manage the disease and negative issues associated with it like stigma, rejection and poverty,” said Achieng.
Carlot Anyango, secretary of a local support group for HIV-positive mothers, said its table banking project that provides loans to its members at a 10 percent repayment fee, has provided respite to their financial challenges. Anyango revealed the support group has more than 30 members who have created a social fund where they contribute a maximum of 500 shillings (about 4.5 U.S. dollars) per week to support the issuance of soft loans. – Xinhua News