Now, today’s post has been inspired by a dilemma many parents face, with regard to their housegirls.
Over the last couple of weeks, the issue of a housegirl’s health has been coming up in many a conversation in my circles –at work, in my chama, on twitter, on facebook, in church, on FM stations….And that’s why I decided to do a post about it.
Specifically, the housegirls’ HIV status.
Some of the issues that have been raised include: Is it okay for you to make a prospective housegirl undergo some certain medical tests before you employ her? Does this infringe on her rights? Or, if she has a persistent cough –is it okay to make her undergo a HIV test, or a TB test as you suspect the worst (you’re paying for it anyway)? Is it okay for you to occasionally go through her stuff in her handbag or suitcase in search of I-don’t-know-what (most likely ARVs or TB drugs)? And what would you do if you indeed found the drugs that you were searching for? Would this scare you enough to fire her immediately or would you keep her on? And if you decide to fire her, does this constitute discrimination?
And the responses to these questions have been many. But they have almost all been the same.
Many parents, both moms and dads with young children wouldn’t think twice about hiring or keeping on a HIV positive housegirl. They would let her go immediately. That even though the housegirl were good with her work, they would just let her go, ‘na sio kwa ubaya’. They say that they just cannot take any chances where their kids, their most precious possessions are concerned. “Accidents can happen anytime…you just never know…,” many have said.
And when the issue of human rights and discrimination come up, I have heard: “Theoretically we know what the law says, but when it comes down to practice, that’s different. The risk is too much…my child comes first then the law and human rights or whatever else follow.”
A couple of moms who had personally experienced such a situation had let their helps go.
But in the midst of all these similar responses, there was one that stood out. TABITHA ONYINGE, a mother of three had a personal experience and she was willing to share it here on Mummy Tales.
This is the article that Tabitha wrote:
“Faith, in her late 20s, was brought to me by a friend. She was a light skinned heavily built lady who had been living with her elder sister in Mathare. She was separated from her husband at the time of our meeting. Being an orphan, she married early to escape the hardships she faced at home, but the marriage did not work out.
The then single mother of a four-year-old daughter came to work for me in early September, 2000, in my last few weeks of pregnancy. Other than the spots on her skin, you could not suspect a thing about her failing health. She was also poor of hearing. Her work was super, although she was quite slow.
A month after having my baby, Faith developed Herpes Zoster. For one week, I nursed her at home after taking her for treatment. She was weak, but maintained her good sense of humour. My sister, a medic, who had all along suspected that Faith’s immunity was suppressed (polite medical reference to a person with HIV), was now almost certain that Faith was HIV positive, and already having AIDS. She ran me through the risks of having a HIV-infected person as a minder of my baby, talking about possible infections such as TB or HIV.
A decision had to be made, quickly. My husband left it all to me. My first move was to ask Faith if she knew anything about her illness. She opened up and shared with me a detailed history of her HIV status; including details of when and how she might have been infected. Oh, it was sad. She suspected that a neighbour of her sister, who had abused her while in her teenage, could have infected her with the virus. She did not think it was her ex-husband. Her daughter was also HIV positive.
I have to confess that I had loved Faith from the first time I met her. She was soft spoken, obedient, kind hearted, trustworthy and submissive. She also had good knowledge of motherhood and child raising, and would give me advice from time to time. (She is the one who informed me that I was in labour, when I had no clue about what was happening to me). She carried herself so maturely, like an elder sister.
After our talk, Faith volunteered to leave if I felt uncomfortable having her around. That almost tore my heart apart. But again, I had to think about my family – my adorable newborn baby boy, my husband and myself. Anything could happen accidentally in the kitchen or anywhere else. Faith understood my anxiety.
I had noticed that Faith was very careful with everything she handled, including the laundry. She, for instance, never mixed her clothes with ours. She had not started taking care of the baby yet, but she would soon have to, as I was returning to work any time. Making a decision was hard. I struggled and battled, but in the end, I decided to keep her. How could I send her away when she was this good to us?
We talked about the risks involved in having her around, and came up with ways to manage the baby, and the family. She was not to kiss or bathe, or perform any kind of first aid that involved blood, on the baby. She was to be careful not to cut or bruise herself or let her blood come in contact with any article that we used to feed. The rules were many. She understood and adhered to them. I washed my baby after work, and prepared his feed before leaving home to reduce risks.
By the way, Faith was strongly built and did not lose weight, even after the Herpes infection. Other than the black spots all over her body, she would have migraines regularly. Remember ARVs were not available then, so she was not on any medication for AIDS.
One day I came home from work and found her having a bad migraine. We bought the usual painkillers, which calmed the headache for a few hours only. This went on for two days before I decided to take her to the doctor. After examining her, the doctor called me aside and advised me to send Faith to her family immediately.
“Do not even return with her to your house. If possible, put her on a bus from here,” the doctor said.
I heeded. Faith’s nephew travelled with her to Ahero, that evening. A day later, her sister called to say that Faith had passed out at the Ahero bus stop after alighting from the bus, and was pronounced dead in hospital, less than 30 minutes later. I was sad… I still feel sad remembering her and how she died.
Faith had worked for us for one year.“
And that is Tabitha’s story. A unique one I must admit. Thanks Tabitha for sharing. So what’s your story? Would you retain your housegirl if you found out she was HIV positive?