The War

He died too, of AIDS – that’s what I’d heard. As did my friend’s mother.

I would see the car pull in at almost the same time every few days. I say almost because I wasn’t ever sure of the time, seeing as I would not wear watches to save myself at that age. The children and I would be busy in between the bustle of playing this game or the other, our feet undoubtedly filthy from all the running, rolling and riding we’d done since arriving home from school. I cannot for the life of me remember anything about the car’s driver – it’s like it moved smoothly, quietly, all on its own. I do quite remember the passenger though – her fair complexion, large-ish shoulders, her penchant for bulky shawls to cover herself up.

The routine was commonplace. We knew that the fair-complexioned lady was being taken to hospital. Every time that car was reversing from her house I would picture a syringe, blood being drawn and a child’s cry. I knew hospitals were places where injections happened, and I also knew most children were afraid of them, and of the pain from the syringes. At that time, I had only visited a hospital a handful of times and therefore I could not understand how such a fair lady could undergo such pain, several times each week!

As I moved on to my next year in school, the frequency with which I would see the car pull in and reverse out of her driveway had been amped up. The lady’s fair complexion was not so fair anymore. Black spots popped up, under her eyes bugs loomed, pulling at her skin. She sank deep into her shawls. I felt like she felt more cold than there actually was that time of year. But maybe the heat I felt came from all the running, rolling and riding I was doing with my friends out in the fields, behind other people’s houses and down the manicured hills of the neighborhood.

That year, somewhere during the third school term, the lady died. She’d died of AIDS – that’s what I’d heard. As I progressed through primary school, I heard of more and more deaths. Most of these deaths were within a kilometer’s radius of where I lived – most of them of ‘young’ people, well at the time they seemed quite old to me because people in their twenties had been on this earth for such a long time. To be fair, a day seemed twice as long then as it does now.

Some of those ‘young’ people are people I’d seen at the basketball court playing their bodies sore. They would sweat it out in the evening sun showing off their skill to us as we spectated under trees, tired from all the running, rolling and riding we’d done all week. I particularly remember one who had this most awkward gait. He walked as though the air around him had an obligation to hold him on this ‘journey’ of walking from the basketball court back home. Progressively, as days faded into each other, so did his body fade into itself. His head started to seem bigger, his neck longer and his calves propped up like sticks. He stopped coming to the court, and I stopped seeing him altogether. I don’t think any of us children paid much mind to his absence. On some days I would see him seated outside the house he lived in, staring ahead at nothing really, or sometimes talking to other ‘young’ men of the neighbourhood.

He died too, of AIDS – that’s what I’d heard. As did my friend’s mother.

For her as well, it came as a surprise to me. She had never disappeared, or had a car come pick her often. She would use public transport, come home (sometimes with ice cream) and let her son share it with us. Her son did not want to come out to play with us on the day of her funeral. Though he did not go, he waited for the funeral tape for us to watch it together. We did a few days later, forfeiting our urge to ride our bicycles. I do not think any of us understood the significance of it then.

Impact of Donor Cut.JPG
“This model reflects the impact of a cut in donor funding to HIV treatment, just one aspect of global HIV programs.”

That was the last HIV-related death I personally heard about. It’s been twelve years now and funerals for AIDS-related deaths have been on the decline. None of my mates say they’ve been to one in a few years. It has been through initiatives like Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), that more people can access services to reduce new infections and keep existing ones at bay. In the history of global health, there had never been an increase of that magnitude in getting products and services to people who need them. That’s why the curve of AIDS deaths bends so sharply around 2005. These initiatives are saving millions of lives, with 800,000 fewer people dying each year from Aids-related illnesses.

But this is a success at risk.

In a world of competing priorities and limited resources, governments in both donor and developing countries that responded so aggressively to the crisis 15 years ago, are now focusing on other things. Funding for HIV control has been flat, and now there’s talk of cuts. An additional 5 million people could die if funding for HIV treatment is cut by just 10 per cent. In 1990, there were 94 million people on the continent between the ages of 15 and 24, the age range when people are most at risk of contracting HIV. By 2030, there will be more than 280 million. If we only do as well as we’ve been doing on prevention, where the current rate of decrease is not nearly enough to offset the population increases we’ll be seeing in Africa over the next generation, then the absolute number of people getting HIV will go up even beyond its previous peak.

The SDG’s aren’t numbers for a future destination, they are a reflection of the world we live in. They represent the HIV-positive parents who know – or as at present it seems, who hope – that thanks to medication, their children won’t get infected…

Submit your SDG Story and have your voice heard!


About the Author:

MwanikiI’ve been reading an incredible amount; reading always, badly, without discipline; reading sometime for the sheer beauty of language. For the beauty of language; that is why I write. They named me Mwaniki and I am son of Nyaga, here to chronicle life in its many flavours, in its sweet and sour tastes and with all the good and bad we do on this planet, Earth. This here, are the marks we’ll leave behind.

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