I feel death is the only solution to my pains – HIV+ mother of three

Mrs. Rakiya Zuberu was infected with HIV
by her late husband. The mother of three, who now begs to survive,
shares her ordeal with TOLUWANI ENIOLA.

Tell us about yourself.
I am from the Igabi Local Government
Area of Kaduna State. I am 35 years old. I got married at the age of 15.
It was not that I desired to get married at that age. As a little girl,
there was little I could do to stop the marriage.  My father had the
final say. Shortly after I was born, my mother parted ways with my
father; so, she left me with my father. I lived with my father and my
step-mother. I have three children. Two of them are HIV positive.
Did you attend school?
No, I didn’t. Nobody saw any need why I
should go to school. None of my parents’ children attended any formal
school. I don’t know what it means to go to school.
When did you discover you were HIV positive?
It all started with a strange sickness
in 2008. I was rushed to a hospital. The doctor said an HIV test should
be conducted on me when they could not understand what was wrong with
me. Initially, when they did the test, it showed that I was HIV
negative. But I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. So, I started taking
drugs for TB for a period of six months. After that period, I felt
better. Then I got pregnant with my second child. I didn’t have money to
pay at the hospital. There was a health worker close to my hospital who
helped me with the delivery of my child at home.  But during the
pregnancy, I was always falling sick. When the baby was about three
months old, I fell sick again. I started coughing blood. I went to a
local chemist where I was given drugs to heal the pains. I finished the
medication and went to the chemist for more.
The chemist knew there was more to my
illness so he told me to go to a hospital for assistance. It was at the
hospital that another test was conducted which showed that I have HIV.
At the hospital, I was asked to bring all my children for a test. The
same day, the children all tested for HIV. My last two children have the
virus. I was told to begin two-month treatment. I could not afford to
buy the injection so I didn’t complete the treatment. That was in 2008.
How many wives did your husband have?
My husband was married before he took me
in as his wife. But the first wife left him. After then, he didn’t
marry any other person.
How did you get HIV?
In 2005, my husband fell sick. We took
him to a hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State, where he was treated. He came
back home feeling better. But after some time, the sickness returned.
That was when he got tested for HIV and it showed he was positive. He
said he didn’t believe he could be infected with HIV.  Although he knew
his status then, he didn’t tell me.
Later in 2008, I discovered I was HIV
positive. I went to the hospital to get the anti-retroviral drugs. I
realised that when I went to the hospital to collect my drugs, he would
ask me to give him out of my own drugs which I did. At a point, his
sickness worsened. Doctors said he had a kidney problem and that he
needed to do a kidney transplant. He sold half of his plot of land. From
Kaduna, he was referred to the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching
Hospital, Zaria. He was placed on oxygen. He got better but later went
into a coma within five days. After he regained consciousness, he
insisted that he did not want to stay any longer at the hospital. After
five days at the hospital, we brought him back to Kaduna. He didn’t
spend up to a month. He died at home.
What did he tell you before he died?
Before he died, I had suffered a lot. I
was so exhausted after bringing him back home. He called me and sat me
down. He told me he needed to tell me something important. He told me he
knew he would die any moment from then. He said he needed to seek
forgiveness from me on a matter. I was curious; so, I asked him to go
ahead.  He said, “Please forgive me for all I have put you through. I
knew I had HIV but I am sorry I didn’t tell you.”  I told him there was
no need to beg me for forgiveness.  I complained bitterly about my
sufferings and what life would be for me if he dies. He said, “Anybody
that comes to this world must definitely die.”  When he died, I felt
How have you been surviving since his death?
It has been continuous suffering for the
past nine years. Most times, my children and I skip meals to survive. 
It’s becoming unbearable for my children. Most times, when I run into a
crisis, I would start crying. Sometimes, I think about killing myself
because the suffering is much. Sometimes, I ask myself the essence of my
life. Sometimes I say, “Why don’t I just die?” But anytime I survive
the crisis, I would become remorseful for thinking about killing myself.
But most times, I feel death is the best way to end the problem.
My children are not in school. I would
rather use the little money I get on the street to feed them than think
of enrolling them in a school. Apart from not attending school, the
children are malnourished. Sometimes, they stay for 10 days without
bathing with soap. Sometimes, we stay for weeks without washing our
clothes because rather than use the money to buy soap, we would rather
use it to buy food.  My daughter’s limb is paralysed as a result of
complications from HIV.
Fatimah is about 13. Abdulazeez is over
eight years. Fatima likes school and would like to go to school. The
ARVs are free in the hospital but other drugs are not. Even though the
ARV is free, sometimes, I don’t have the money to go to the hospital to
get it. I used to go to a mosque in Tundun Wada and a market to beg for
I want my children to be educated. But
there is no money to do so. If there is any way my children can get help
to go to school, I would be very grateful. Even if they cannot go to
school, at least if I am able to feed them, I would be happy. I used to
go to the villages before to buy maize and sweet potatoes for sale. But
now things have been so hard that I can’t buy farm produce any longer.
Why didn’t you seek assistance from your family?
When I tested positive to HIV, I went to
my father. I told him about my plight. He said I should ignore the
diagnosis, that if I had HIV, I would have died immediately after
contracting it. He simply told me there was nothing like HIV. Since
then, I stopped going to him again. He killed my spirit.
Do you experience any stigma as a result of your situation?
One of my friends is HIV positive. At
the hospital, they gave us one handbill with the inscription, “HIV does
not kill.” She showed people her handbill and since then, people started
running away from her. She was so sick that I was the only person going
to visit her. The woman got better.  I realised that if I disclosed my
status, it would only worsen my problem as people would run away from me
as well.
Why didn’t you remarry after your husband’s death?
After my husband died, some men showed
interest in marrying me. I told them my children were still very small.
Besides, I didn’t want to disclose my status. One particular man came
and insisted he wanted to marry me. I told him he could not marry me. He
wanted me to tell him my problem. I told him I was sick. He said no
problem, that he would marry me despite the sickness. He insisted on
knowing why I said I could not marry just any man. I refused to tell
him. Then he started mentioning names of sicknesses one by one until he
mentioned HIV. When he mentioned HIV, I said yes. Then he said, “No
problem. I will marry you.”  But from then, I never heard from him
again.  Nobody wants to marry an HIV positive person. Since then, nobody
has come to ask for my hand in marriage. I will like to get married
because I’m still young.
What lessons has your illness taught you as a mother?
I have gone through a lot in life. I
wish my husband told me his HIV status and began treatment early enough.
He wouldn’t have died. Also, we were told during the counselling
sessions at the hospital that if more women knew their status, they
could protect their children from contracting the virus when they are
pregnant. I never knew all these. I gave birth to my children at home. I
regret that my children have to live with the virus and go through the
pain of taking drugs every day. I want to advise more women to know
their HIV status. That way, they can protect their unborn children.
There is still a lot of ignorance in Kaduna about HIV. The government
has a lot to do. All I want in life is to see my children succeed and
never to suffer.  My prayer is to get a drug that will cure HIV. I
appeal to people in government to help me.

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