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The Last Days of an HIV-Positive Child

hiv in children Eva was fondly called “everybody’s friend.” At 10 years of age, she was young and tender. The most striking feature about her countenance was the long, delicate, silken hair that framed her beautiful face.

It was often said of her at Bugolobi Child Development Center, where I worked as a child development officer, that Eva would not need to go to a salon because “the salon in heaven did a good job.”

Eva always had a smile for everyone, including strangers, but behind her radiant smile raged a monstrous battle. Opportunistic diseases attacked her daily.

One day, Eva would be bedridden with malaria; another day, it would be a severe cough.

We just did not know what to expect. As such, her Saturdays, when the development center expected her, were often pre-empted by trips to the local hospital. Eva had acquired HIV at birth from her late mother.

One day as I was reviewing the attendance register, it occurred to me that Eva had not attended the center programs for nearly a month.

She had not written a letter to her sponsor, nor had she been available for her child-update photograph. Neither Eva nor her father had given any reason for her lengthy absence.

Nicholas, the center director, and I walked to the shack where Eva’s father lived and asked him about his daughter. He said he had sent her to visit her family in Kawolo, the family’s ancestral village in the far-away district of Lugazi. Her father assured us she would return soon.

After a month, Eva had not returned. Her father avoided Nicholas and me, leaving his shack early in the morning under the guise of going to work and returning late at night after Nicholas and I had closed the office.

We had every reason to end Eva’s sponsorship because she was no longer benefiting from the center programs. An integrity issue was at stake, for Eva’s sponsor was remitting money to the center every month.

It took a group of children in Bugolobi’s Middle East slum to inform us that Eva’s father had abandoned her in Kawolo.

Earlier, when our child development center conducted HIV testing for all the children in the sponsorship program, Eva had tested HIV-positive. Her father received the information but refused to take the test himself.

When Eva’s condition worsened into full-blown AIDS that was visible to onlookers, he no longer wanted to be associated with her. He was afraid his friends and colleagues would think that since his daughter was HIV-positive, then he, too, was HIV-positive.

Eva’s father decided to bundle up the little angel and take her to Kawolo village to “save his face.” When we finally were able to approach him, he showed remorse for his actions.

We hired an ambulance and paramedics and drove to Kawolo village in Lugazi district. We arrived in the heat of the noonday African sun. Beautiful Eva lay shivering, as though it were winter, on a bare mat in a derelict thatched hut.

She had thinned so much that her skeleton protruded beneath her skin. Her lovely hair had fallen out. Eva’s lips had transformed into a wound so big that she was unable to eat. I could not tell how long it had been since she had last eaten.

Eva could not move any part of her body except for her frightened eyes. She saw me and tried to say something but was unable to form words.

The paramedics immediately put her on an intravenous drip and carried her to the ambulance. I rode in the front of the ambulance, worried that Eva would die before we could get her to the Joint Clinical Research Center, the leading hospital in Uganda for HIV/AIDS research.

At the hospital Eva received a clean, warm bed and the best medical care Uganda could offer. Slowly she began to improve and gain weight. She started to smile again, but she had lost her ability to speak.

I visited her in the hospital every day and prayed with her. I delivered flowers and get-well cards from her friends and staff at the child development center and from concerned parents. Eva’s recovery was remarkable.

With Christmas festivities approaching, Eva greatly missed her family in Kawolo. She had been in-hospital for three months, and the medical personnel decided that it was now safe to discharge her so she could join her family for Christmas.

It was a joy for Nicholas, the medical personnel and me to watch Eva step out of the hospital. We placed her in a taxicab and bid her farewell to reunite with her family. Then we, too, went to be with our families for Christmas.

On Boxing Day, I received a phone call that Eva had died.

I froze. I asked God, “Why? How?” It felt as though a part of my being had been severed. I traveled for the burial. The entire village came to mourn Eva.

A scuffle erupted as to what mode the burial should take. Some of Eva’s family were Muslim and others were Seventh Day Adventist. Each wanted to bury Eva in accordance with their religion.

Finally, a tough-speaking man rose up from among the mourners and rebuked the two warring factions.

He told them that when Eva was alive and suffering, none of them cared for her. The only people who cared for her were from Compassion International.

He told them that Eva did not die a Muslim or a Seventh Day Adventist. She died having confessed Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.

At that moment, the mourners burst into tears and sang Uganda’s famous revival song, “Tukutendereza Yesu.” Translation: “Praise Jesus.”

I was given opportunity to speak as the Compassion International representative; I gave an altar call. Several people — including Eva’s father — gave their lives to Christ and we joyfully laid Eva to rest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gerald Kateu served as a child development officer with Bugolobi Child Development Center for seven years before joining our Uganda field office as sponsor and donor services associate in July 2008.