More to antiretroviral treatment, NO to stigma counts

Eighty-four-year old Murenzi tested HIV positive last year and now lives in a two-room house that serves as a kitchen and goat-stable in Nyamweru cell – a suburb of Kigali City. He is one of several HIV/AIDS patients who need support among 3 per cent of the Rwandan population infected with the virus.

More to medicine, people living with HIV/AIDS need moral support and a full care from their family and neighbours.

“I have not eaten anything since morning”, elderly Murenzi says. “You can see yourself that there is no sign of fire in my stove.”  

HIV infection affects all dimensions of a person’s life, according to the World Health Organisation – from physical, psychological, social to the spiritual. Counselling and social support can help people and their carers cope more effectively with each stage of the infection and enhances quality of life, the UN agency notes.  

His age means Murenzi has to spend all day at home, at–times hoping that somebody may come to his support. By the evenings, he goes to bed – usually with no food. Since last year, his 49-year-old wife Venantie Mukanyonga and their nine children struggle to survive as they also take care of him. Mukanyonga however, is HIV negative.

The family owns two homes – in Shyorongi, Rulindo District, and another in Nyamweru where the old man stays. The family previously lived in Shyorongi where Murenzi suspects to have been infected by a neighbouring widow. The Murenzi-family eventually moved to Kigali apparently to boost their incomes from selling livestock.

It did not turn out as planned. Murenzi saw his business fall apart, the same period he found out he had contracted the Aids virus. His wife was devastated.

“When I first knew the results, I planned to leave him, I was shocked but I thought about the uncountable years we stayed together, what we have been through and the nine children we have, I calmed down,” Mukanyonga said.

Mukanyonga transferred back to the family home in Shyorongi along with four younger children. They now have to till land as the sole source for food and income. Despite this situation, Murenzi appreciates that his family did not let him down.

“She often comes to see me,” he says. The older children have been taking-turns to support their aging and sickly father.

The couple was first sensitised about the advantages of getting tested of the HIV virus when the husband went for testing in 2007. Though Mukanyonga was shocked when her husband tested HIV positive, she still has sex with him using condoms.

“I always respect advice that we got from the hospital,” Mukanyonga said of the fact that she has been having protected sex with her husband.

“Even if it is impossible to be together all the time, I try as much as possible to show him that he is not alone”, she added.

Twenty-year old Issa Nsengiyumva lives with the father. In an area with no tap water or even electricity, elderly Murenzi does not seem to have anything to show except for a roof that leaks when it rains.

Nsengiyumva says he has tried to keep the father in good mood chatting as a way of making him feel there are people that care. The son also provides for the father, accompanies to hospital for the regular ARV doses.

“I work without rest in order to finance every need of my father but it is impossible, my wages are very low,” said Nsengiyumva.

Murenzi also enjoys the compassion from his neighbours who often join him at home.

“They do all their best to show that they are with me and it strengthens me,” he said.

The wife added that neighbours morally help her husband but that it was impossible for them to help financially because they are also poor.

Officials in Nyamweru cell said that it is hard to get help for Murenzi but they sometimes call up on donors to help all HIV patients in their area on top of sensitising their people to help those living with HIV/AIDS during occasions like the Community Work, Umuganda, which takes place at the end of every month.

Still with his situation, Murenzi continues the struggle to live. He sometimes works in other people’s farms and keeps traders’ goats at his home to get some little money that he needs. He appreciates the fact that government guarantees free medicine and condoms for him and other AIDS patients.

Even if life becomes harder and harder day after day for Murenzi, it is clear that he is surviving with prevailing love and care from his family and neighbours. What remains the biggest challenge for him is how to get a decent house and a guarantee for food.

“If I get something to eat everyday and a place where I can live without getting wet when it rains, perhaps I can spend more days alive,” he said as he swallowed his ARV drug.