How HIV ‘misdiagnosis’ resulted in rejection, stigma and divorce

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 10:00 |
Anne Wambui displays ARV drugs she has been taking for months after a positive diagnosis at Thika Level Five Hospital last year. Photo/PD/MATHEW NDUNG’U

Anne Wambui suspected her cop husband of cheating. She, as expected, was afraid of catching something nasty from him. 

So in March last year, she did what any self-preserving wife would do—dragged her husband to Thika Level Five Hospital for HIV/Aids screening. She new neither of the two likely results would be easy to deal with. 

Negative and she would have to live with the guilt of having accused her partner of infidelity. Positive…well, she would be vindicated, but then what? 

“I have never been with another man since I got married and that alone gave me the confidence that I was negative. I actually took the tests in full confidence,” the 47-year-old eatery owner said.

The couple then took the tests. Wambui had, however, overlooked a third likely result—posting positive herself and her husband negative. 

“The results were a shocker. My life turned upside down,” she said.

It was the beginning of a journey of rejection, pain and trauma for the mother of three. On the second day after testing positive, she bought poison to end her life, but changed her mind later.

Postpone death

“I was to take it in the evening, but at the time, there was an outage and I could not mix the concoction well and I therefore postponed my death to the following day,” she said.

At first, her husband who was stationed in Kitengela was supportive and promised to stick by her but soon told her to deal with her “problem”. He refused to pick her calls and later told her that he wanted a divorce as he did not want to live with a “dying woman”.

Through prayer, Wambui shelved her plans to take her life and resolved to forge on, if at all for her children. She was put on ARVs and began the daunting process of acceptance coupled with unending questions as to how she could have contracted the virus. 

“I picked my Bible, prayed and got a bit of relief but the aspect of me having contracted HIV could hardly vacate my mind,” she said.

During her son’s circumcision ceremony in December after “living with the virus” for months, she decided to take a free Voluntary and Counselling Test that was being offered to the young people undergoing the rite at the Jubilee Christian Church, Thika.

Shock of all shocks, she tested negative. How could that be? A web of emotions–confusion, joy, anger and uncertainty –flooded through her. 

To get a definite answer, Wambui went for four more tests; at Makongeni Phase Eight public health centre, at a clinic organised by eye opticians in Thika, at Thika Level Five Hospital (again) and at Partners in Health and Research Development, a private health institution. They all returned negative. 

Demand action

Wambui is now seeking damages against  Thika Level Five Hospital for misdiagnosing her, putting her on anti-retroviral medication and denying her a chance to be off the medication following contrary results in other facilities.

“I want action taken against the hospital for mismanaging my situation and subjecting me to trauma. Friends who thought I was sick shunned me while my husband abandoned me. I am now left to battle untold pain as I struggle to bring up my children. I don’t even know the damage ARV drugs will have on my body,” she said.

Speaking from her rented house in Thika town, Wambui said she has been stigmatised, looked down upon, despised and victimised by society for a mistake by a professional.

Wambui has now asking authorities to intervene in her case and compel the hospital to compensate her for the damage she has since suffered.

Moses Mwangi, a pharmacist, says rapid test kits at the hospital could have given faulty results if healthcare workers did not follow stipulated procedures, or if the kits were stored poorly.

However, while the Wambui  could be safe from the virus, he said, proper uptake of the ARVs could also have suppressed the viral load to undetectable levels.

“Although results from different facilities have proven otherwise, the woman needs a thorough medical examination from a specialised and accredited laboratory,” he said.

The hospital management has not been available for comment over the issue. 

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