Victor Mutembei speaks of the ups and lows that come with being young and living with HIV/Aids
Ann Sokoto @annsokoto and Peter Ngila @peterngilanjeri
Mutembei Victor looks relaxed as he sits facing the swimming pool in a luxurious hotel in Nairobi during the 2018 HIV Prevention, Care and Treatment Scientific Conference last week. When he opens up about his life, we discover the inner turmoil of a man who discovered he was HIV/Aids positive as a teenager.
Victor, 24, discovered his HIV status years after the demise of his mother in 2003. His aunt who lived in Kangemi took him in.
“I began getting sick when I was 13 while in Standard Seven, and was taken to Mbagathi Hospital where I was tested and diagnosed with asthma. What was shocking was that I was put on unusually-looking drugs,” Victor, a peer educator with Lea Toto, an organisation that provides home-based care for HIV/Aids patients says. His auntyalways insisted that he takes the drugs and they would go back to the hospital whenever they ran out.
Fed up with taking drugs everyday, Victor one day gave his aunt an ultimatum. He demanded to be told why he was taking the drugs or he would stop taking them.
He was taken to a counsellor who revealed he was HIV positive. “It didn’t dawn on me at that moment that I was HIV positive, I felt like I had been pinched, but the pain hit me afterwards,” he explains.
This revelation made him feel like the odd one out in the family. He kept his status a secret to a point that only one of his cousins, who he treats as siblings, knows he is living with HIV/Aids. On some days he refused to take the ‘candies’ – a nickname he had given the drugs.
“I became ill in Standard Eight because I refused to take the anti-retroviral drugs,” he says.
In 2008, Victor attended his first support group called Ange De La Vie, which means Angels of Life at Mbagathi Hospital. He was encouraged to adhere to his drugs.
At some point in the same year, Victor’s aunt suggested he shifts from Ange De La Vie because of the distance, and relocate to the nearby Lea Toto Programme, a support group in Kangemi. Even then, he played a hide and seek game with the drugs and only only took them when he was unwell. He stopped taking them all together in 2009.
As a peer educator, Victor says an adolescent will give a health provider the answer they want to hear, so when the doctors asked him whether he took his drugs, he always answered in the affirmative. It is only when he became ill that his family discovered he had stopped taking drugs.
In 2010, Victor’s CD4 count had hit a low of 34 and so the doctors changed his medication from first-line drugs, which his body had developed an immunity to, to a stronger second-line dose.
“At that time, the second line medication consisted of six tablets a day. I thought if I was taken from the first-line medication of two tablets per day to the second-line medication of six per day, if I fail to adhere to these ones I would be taking 15! So, I had to just take the medication,” he says. After high school in 2013, he did odd jobs and got into a computer college where he was later employed as a tutor.
Victor later worked as a college receptionist and went into signage during which he did many projects including the WoolWorths sign at Garden City Mall in Nairobi. Last year he worked as an operational clerk in a cleaning company based in Kileleshwa, Nairobi.
Victor’s turning point came when a friend introduced him to Sauti Skika, an advocacy group advocating for adolescents’ and young people’s health, which helped him open up about his HIV status.
He went to Mombasa for a United Nation Children’s Fund (Unicef) training to become a Trainer of Trainers (TOT). After that he volunteered with Lea Toto, where he is today working as the Adolescent and Youth Liaison Officer.
With Victor’s jovial character, he has many friends, some who know his HIV status and others who don’t. His dating life has been an interesting one.
“The first of the two HIV-positive women I dated came into my life in 2014 and we broke up after six months. I met the second one in 2016 but we broke up in July last year,” Victor, who believes HIV-positive people shouldn’t be loved out of pity says.
His attitude towards living and dating with HIV/Aids is slowly changing as he accepts that he can still enjoy life.
“At the beginning of a relationship, a probable lover has to know my HIV status; if you don’t love me, go away!” Victor stoically says. He is hoping to get into a relationship one day with a HIV negative woman. He says he doesn’t want someone to be with him because they’re of the same status, but out of love.