Lying down on a hospital bed, the smell of a mixture of medicine and something indescribable filled Assia’s nostrils. The room was dark, congested and the air was not pleasant.
She coughed consistently and her chest was on fire. With every painful outburst, she felt life drain out of her soul as she felt weaker each minute.
Lying next to her was a frail tiny bundle wrapped up in clothing’s. She periodically cried hungrily but Assia could not breastfeed her two-months-old baby girl.
“How do I get out of here with my baby, I used to think,” she narrated during an interview with The New Times.
This was in 2005 when Assia had just learnt from the doctors that she weighed a mere 27 Kgs because she had Tubeculosis (T.B) a result of an immune system that was weakening because of HIV/Aids.
“There is nothing much we can do,” were the final words the doctor from Kimironko’s Community health centre told Assia. She needed to go home and rest with her baby but Assia had no home.
Orphaned by HIV/Aids in 1991 at the age of six, Assia Murorunkwere was an only child who had to find means of survival.
She lived in Rwamagana District, in the Eastern province and as she moved from place to place, through relatives homes, she begged for food and shelter.
She settled for a while at her uncle’s home and everything was going on well for three years.
“Then the rumours and stories of killings across the country started,” she narrated.
In 1994 Assia was 10-years-old when the Tutsi’s genocide was taking place. Her uncle’s family had to go into hiding and somehow, they were all dispersed. That was the last she heard of this family. Luckily, she survived but with no home to go to.
At 15, Assia says she conceived her first child. Images of the months that followed were those of unspeakable suffering and struggling from things she did not want to share with anyone because they are not worth remembering.
Her village life was challenging to the bone with her baby boy to look after. The poverty, daily toiling for food and transport was not easy.
Cut off from the rest of the world, Assia needed a way out. At 20 she moved to Kigali city on a quest for greener pastures leaving behind her young son.
After all, everyone was moving to the city and they managed to get jobs and money, she had thought.
Contracting the killer disease
Settled in the Kigali, Assia did odd jobs until she met someone, she thought would give her a life. Instead he lied, cheated her life and infected her with HIV/Aids. A few months later she was heavy with child, weak and had no money for prenatal checkups.
Two months later, after giving birth to her baby girl, the stress of her situation and lack of proper medical care led to a steep decline in her health and she was affected with Tuberculosis (TB).
Statistics from the Demographic and Health Survey: DHS 2005 at the National Aids Control Commission (CNLS), show the prevalence rate of females aged between 15-19 and males of 15-59 at 7.7% in urban areas and 2.3 percent in rural settings.
The prevalence rate further indicated that women are the most infected by HIV/Aids with a prevalence rate of 3.6% against men with the prevalence rate of 2.3%.
“While I was in the hospital bed with my baby I had no hope of surviving,” she said.
One day, two women, Prisca Mukinisha and Mary Kabano visited Kimironko’s Community health centre during one of their Mercy Ministry outreaches.
“Assia was the first woman we picked from Kimironko hospital. At that time, she weighed only 27kgs, she could not walk or breast feed her two month old baby,” said Kabano.
Today, through the three Mercy Homes which they established as an entity of Christian Life Assembly, they support and look after more than 17 HIV positive women with their children who are taken to school.
“…today she weighs 69Kgs does not take ARV’s because the doctors said her CD4-cell count is not a worry, ” Kabano said.
Dr. Steve Shyaka, at King Faisal Hospital said such cases of improved CD4- cell counts occur among HIV/Aids patients if they are not stigmatized. This he explained is only likely if after testing, followed clearly the doctor’s instructions so as to live a healthy lifestytle.
“Patient who find out that they are positive, need to go through counseling to relieve stress, feed on a balanced diet to build their immunity and avoid taking drugs and alcohol which only make their condition worse,” Shyaka said.
He further explained that just like Assia’s condition, most people who have TB only find out they are HIV positive after they seek treatment. Likewise all people who are screened positive will undergo a TB test to ensure that their immunity is kept in check.
“When HIV develops into to the AIDS stage, patients are highly prone to TB infection, which is usually the cause of their death if, not treated in time,” he emphasized.
This, the health expert further explained is due to a reduction in the blood sero status of the patient due to a declined immune system.
According to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, TB is the leading cause of death among HIV-infected people; the World Health Organization also estimates that TB accounts for up to a third of AIDS deaths worldwide.
As a result, the Global Fund-supported tuberculosis programs have so far, put more than 5.4 million people on effective TB drugs treatment.
Currently, living with her 3-year-old daughter at the Mercy Home and hospice at Samduha, Kabeza, Assia is in charge of the home and is in turn looking after other two women, one with 8 and the other with 2 children respectively. For skill building, women at all the Mercy Homes weave baskets and do tailoring, the profits are used to support their families.
“Some doctors are still amazed at how well I have improved, I followed the doctor’s advice and most importantly I believe deep in my heart that my improvement is because of all the love and care that I receive while at the Mercy Homes.
I want others to feel encouraged and know that tomorrow becomes better if you know how to live with HIV,” Assia said.
Just like a mask that has been stripped off her persona, unveiling an entirely different human being than the one she was previously, Assia is impacting many people’s lives today.
Her essence seems so pure and so sweet as she shares her success story with many just to make sure they understand that HIV is not the end of life.