Gloria Asuquo tells how she was neglected, humiliated and stigmatised for being HIV positive...
My HIV status: I tested positive in 1999 when I was 12 years old. I got infected through blood transfusion in one of the general hospitals in Abuja. I have been warned not to mention the name of the hospital for certain reasons. The former Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Prof. Babatunde Oshotinmehin, is aware of the matter.
How this has affected me: It has affected me a lot. One day will not be enough for me to tell my sad tale. First, the general overseer of my church tried hard to stop me from coming to church. When he did not succeed, he decided to announce my HIV status to the congregation. As a result of this, everybody avoided me whenever I come to church. The GO went further to tell my mother that since she had six children and I was infected with HIV, I should be taken to one of the general hospitals where children like me were abandoned to die. My mother agreed with him.
She said it was the right thing to do and tried to persuade my father to toe her line. But he bluntly refused. She was not satisfied and went on to build a separate room for me. She did everything possible to separate me from the family. She would slip my food under the door and I would eat and pass it back to them in the same way. I cried a lot because all entreaties to my mother by some people in NACA fell on deaf ears. The church told my father that the HIV may fly out and infect my siblings. But Dad said he would comply only if the GO uses one of his own children as an experiment. The matter became so serious that one day my mother called me a corpse. All our neighbours learnt of my HIV status through my mother. Nobody came close to me anymore. One day, I broke the window of our house and ran away from home.
My ordeal at home: My dad knew nothing about the ordeal I faced in the hands of my mother because he always went to work in the morning and returned very late. I did not have the heart to inform him about what happened in his absence. I would just lock myself indoors. My father paid for my drugs, which were very expensive. Sometimes he paid with interest. Each time I ran out of drugs, I shied away from telling him because of the problem he would encounter from my mother. Since she refused to reconcile with me, I decided to flee from my mother. They started looking for me everywhere, including police stations, mortuaries and hospitals. They never knew that I was in a bush village around Nsukka in Enugu State.
Rescued by kind-hearted doctor: I lived in the bush village for four years before a man came to my rescue. He is Dr. Anthony Agu, a medical doctor. He had seen me sleeping in an uncompleted building. I was there without anybody, no friend and just with one dress. Every morning, I would assist traders selling edible items and sachet water to travellers. I carried loads for the travellers and they paid me N20. Then I will use the money to buy ‘okpa’ and sachet water.
This is what I did for many days. One day, Dr. Agu saw me and asked: ‘Don’t you have parents?’ I started crying. He consoled me, then took me to a place and bought me some clothes. Later, I opened up to him because I stole my father’s identity card when I was running away. He asked if I wanted to go back to my parents and I said no. I didn’t want to experience that kind of pain again. He took me to his house, but until he warned me not to let his wife know that I was HIV positive. He promised to treat me like the rest of his children.
He went to a police station and reported the matter in case anything happened to me. He ‘adopted’ me as one of his children. He took me back to school, trained me in Nla Secondary School situated in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was in 2005 when he was trying to secure admission for me in a popular private university in Enugu State that they discovered my status. They categorically told us that they won’t admit me because of my HIV status because I would infect other students. That was how I lost the admission. I have the admission letter. They said I had to undergo medical test. Instead of conducting mine secretly, the university authorities decided to expose the result to the public. They withdrew the admission given to me. Dr. Agu is still alive today, if you wish to interview him.
How my friend was killed for being HIV positive: I learnt that my friend Rosemary was HIV positive through her relation. The incident occurred in the Karimo area of Abuja. He told me that when he asked the girl to come and live with him, but she refused and moved to Port Harcourt, only to come and stay with him after contracting HIV. He accused her of nursing the intention to infect his children with the virus. But I told him my experience. I told him that if I didn’t tell him about my status, he would not have known because I looked healthier than him. I pleaded that he should leave the girl alone. But he refused and kept on beating this girl. I took Rosemary to the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS and Association of Positive Youths. They promised to help her get a job.
That same week her brother complained to me that she was not eating. I planned to see my friend and talk to her. On that fateful morning, one of the man’s children said to him, ‘Daddy, don’t touch her, she is already dead.’ Rosemary really felt pained by those words. She was trying to express her anger when the relation dragged her hair and hit her head on the wall. It happened right in my presence.
The man used his hands to pull off Rosemary’s plaited her hair. She started bleeding in her head, mouth, and everywhere. I started shouting and crying and all the neighbours came and tried to open the door to save her. But his brother resisted, saying that she had stepped on his toes. We resolved that I should take Rosemary to my house to have her bath. But immediately, she started vomiting blood. She lost her strength and became very weak. After bathing, she decided to go back to her residence to change her clothes. On getting there, the woman who was feeding the relation in question false information about Rosemary went to tell him that she was back in the house. Ironically, the same woman is also HIV positive. I was telling her that if anything happened to the girl, she would be held responsible when I heard Rosemary shout with a loud voice. I rushed inside and found that her smashed on the wall. She screamed loudly, slumped and died. That was what happened.
-Interview by FRIDAY OLOKOR