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HIV-positive girl finally finds hope

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Harriet walks along the railway. She wants to become a doctor. PHOTO BY MARTIN ODONGO 

By Martin Odongo

Posted  Sunday, April 13   2014 at  20:47
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Gulu.
At 12 years, the average Ugandan child is either in Primary Six or ready to sit for Primary Leaving Examinations. But not Harriet*.
Harriet’s story published last Tuesday in Rainbow, the Daily Monitor children’s magazine, stirred emotional responses from readers- both locally and internationally.

Some followed with email enquiries on how to help while Monitor staff and its sister radios KFM and Dembe FM had by last Friday contributed Shs1.2 million to give a helping hand.

Harriet’s father stopped paying her Shs15,000 per-term fees after discovering that she was HIV-positive.
By then, ill-health had rendered the girl’s mother less productive. With no one to turn to, Harriet had no choice but to drop out of school.
But Harriet’s future is turning out for the better and she wants to remain in school like other children.

Her aspiration is to become a doctor. Fate has not been her ally. Harriet’s body is spotted with wounds. She looks frail and sickly, yet unrelenting in her passion for education.

It is only when she talks about school that her face lightens up. She has also suffered discrimination from her peers due to her scaly skin.
The girl had not understood what was wrong with her until her reluctant mother made the unsettling disclosure: Both were HIV positive.

“My mother gave me medicine to take every day. I wondered why other children didn’t take medicine just like I did. Whenever she gave me medicine, I asked her why she was giving it to me, and she didn’t answer me,” she narrated.

That went on for long. “One day she told me I was HIV positive and had been born with it,” the 12-year-old says.
Harriet believes she will die one day because of the information she has heard about HIV/Aids on radio.

However, with good medical care, together with modern medicine, Harriet can live a full life.

Angry with her mother, Harriet concentrated on school only for that opportunity to be taken away when her father walked out on the family because he believed his wife infected him with the HIV virus.
That is the sad tale that touched the readers of Daily Monitor.
“The number of kind souls out there is amazing. Harriet and her mother certainly need to be helped. The plan is to come up with a sustainable way to help them,” the Rainbow editor and coordinator of the campaign, Ms Brenda Banura, said.

public pledges to support Harriet

Richard Ruyonga, supervisor at Equator Touring Services. “When I read Harriet’s story, I could relate. It is absurd that she has one meal a day and yet she is taking strong medication. I knew I had to help her and her mother.”

Sheila Nvannungi, Executive Director Of Gold Hearts Initiative: “I got touched after reading the piece. This is a young girl without good nutrition yet on drugs and now out of school. I would like to take care of all nutrition needs of the family.”

Johnson Byabashaija Commissioner General Of Prisons pledged to counsel Harriet and her parents. Dr Byabashaija said he would use his position on Africa’s prison chiefs HIV initiative to highlight the girl’s plight.

How to help
Health advice.Dr Hope Kusasira from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital visited Harriet at her family home. After examining the girl and medical documents, Dr Kusasira said she need more medical attention. “She also needs better nutrition as per the drugs she is taking,” Dr Kusasira said.
Assistance: To help Harriet, reach us on our email: rainbow@ug.nationmedia.com