‘I was HIV positive at 12, I wanted to kill myself,’ Winnie Orende

At only 12  Winnie Orende could not understand how she had HIV yet according to her it was a disease meant for prositutes and she was not one.

Doctors informed the last born of four about her HIV status when she was 12,Winnie and her siblings had lost their mother in May 2003.

Two months after the diagnosis doctors asked her to visit the hospital for ‘consultation’.

Naive and orphaned , she went to the hospital hoping the doctor was calling her to award her a scholarship for school.

“At that age, I was so confused. I had never had sex before; I am not a prostitute, so how could I have HIV?” she thought.

The doctor was a close friend of my late mother and father. I was confident he was calling me to award me a scholarship for school after my mum’s demise,” she narrates.

On arrival, she said her doctor was unusually inquisitive question on if she knew what killed her mother,


‘Oxygen deficiency, ‘ Orende answered.

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What of dad? the doctor asked .

“Well, I was told a coma’ the young girl answered.

Orende recounts that at that point, the doctor went silent.

“I continued eating my burger. I love eating so the doc was really boring me with his nagging questions,” she said.

Hardly had she taken two bites than the doctor interjected with questions again.

He asked what causes  HIV?

“I very quickly answered tabia mbaya (bad manners) – to mean intercourse. That question was always in my exam papers.”

The doctor then asked her to describe the body of a HIV infected person.

Orende quickly answered skeleton-looking, citing that she saw such a photo in her class four coursebook.

The doctor paused again, that time Orengo recalls the pause was longer, allowing her to take four bites of her burger, then he interjected.

“Why do you take aspirin medication every day?” the doctor asked.

Orende says she could not answer that question.

Her mother always forced her to take aspirin every day even when she was not sick.

“My mother beat me up when I skipped medication . She said it helped with chest pains,” she narrates

Orende said that her mother beat her up if she skipped the medication.

That’s when the doctor broke the news of her status to her.

“The drugs are meant to manage your HIV condition,” he said.

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Orende refused to accept her diagnosis until she was admitted to hospital on several occasions.

She said that HIV diagnosis then was like a death sentence and being put on ARV’s did not make things any better for her

“If the disease killed my parents, I wondered how I would survive. I wanted to die.”

I felt bad. It would have been better if they told me about my status, rather than another person telling me about it. I wanted to kill myself, but then I realised that even if I killed myself, my sister would suffer. So I stopped having suicidal thoughts.”

When she finally accepted the ARV treatment, she brags of a healthy life.

“I am very happy with my condition right now, taking medication as required and I am healthy. I am actually looking for a serious relationship,” she chuckles.

Asked whether she would reveal her HIV status to her new boyfriend.

“Why not? Lets learn to open up about our HIV status,”she said .

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