Muriuki gallantly
fought HIV stigma

Thursday, February 17th, 2022 00:26 | By
Joe Muriuki at a past function. PHOTO/COURTESY

Dr Joe Muriuki, who died on Valentine’s Day, is a national hero. He is the face of grit and unimaginable resilience. His will power and fearlessness are beyond measure.

On September 20, 1987, Muriuki, having struggled with health issues, was told he had contracted HIV/Aids. Medics, ignorantly, gave him three months to live. The virus had been detected three years prior to Muriuki’s case. The stigma around the condition was big and it was associated with homosexuals and those with wayward behaviour.

However, this did not deter Muriuki from announcing to the world that he was infected with the virus. The announcement brought stigma and isolation to his door.

His wife was three months pregnant and doctors told her to go for abortion; after all the child would be born with the deadly virus and lead a miserable life. Muriuki refused, the child was born HIV-negative and grew up normally.

His seat at the workplace was thrown away and he could not open a bank account since no one wanted to interact with him. Traumatising as it may have been, Muriuki’s resilience gave hope to millions of Kenyans who contracted the disease.

He opened the eyes of researchers on the disease and raised awareness globally on the need for free medication to those infected. So many Kenyans have benefitted from his advocacy.

It is because of outliers such as Muriuki that yesterday a woman was cured of the virus thanks to advancement in research that Muriuki and other advocates had been pushing for. Worth noting is that there is a vaccine for the virus that is currently under trial.

Mother-to-child infections have also gone down tremendously because of reduced stigma; as a result more women are seeking proper care for their children. While these may be magical moments in the wake of the disease, fighting stigma has been momentous.

From a bank teller refusing to open an account for a HIV-positive customer to a discordant couple living a happy life and having children; from suggestions of abortion to a near-zero mother-to-child infection; the world has witnessed tremendous steps that can be traced to the September 20 pronouncement by someone who was supposed to quit his job, pack his bags and retire to the village to die in three months.

Thirty-five years since the ominous pronouncement Muriuki proved to doctors and the whole world that HIV is not really a death sentence.

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