RIP to Joe Muriuki, the man who helped us understand HIV/AIDS

This week we mourn a Joe Muriuki who passed away after years of a good fight. Most of the younger generation born in the 90s might not know him. In this case, the word young is relative because they are actually in their thirties and most are parents. Let me tell them a story like a popular storyteller.

A long time ago, when we were young and used to travel with old buses, which were mostly taken from OTC or around Muthurua, we used to hear hawkers whistling as they were shouting “capsule, capsule”.

We never understood what they were selling as we focused more on sweets. Even when I was in Khalsa Primary School near the bus station, I could still see them selling the products packed in a brown envelope.

Later I realized that these were drugs intended for the treatment of venereal diseases – mainly gonorrhea and syphilis. Later, when we got older, we realized that when someone had careless sex, they could get both diseases. People used to fear syphilis more because we called it ‘ugonjwa ya kukojoa uzi’, a loose translation for urinating a ‘white thread’, which was so painful.

When we arrived at college, we learned that once you had the disease, you had to go for treatment in a municipal clinic near the Casino Cinema. The stories that came from the clinic were very scary.

There were stories of people being injected with large syringes containing benzathine penicillin G for syphilis. It was so painful you were literally trying to climb the walls like a spider-man. Worse was the government policy that you could only get treatment when you came with the partner who infected them. The issue was how to convince a sex worker to go with you and the part where the city council worker told everyone to hold the partner’s hand. The drug worked but people urinated on themselves after collapsing after the injection.

So it was a relief when powerful antibiotics were introduced that could be obtained without a prescription, making it possible to self-treat both diseases.

Unfortunately, we started to hear about AIDS. Musicians like Prince sang “Sign O times” in which he recounted that a skinny man in France died of a largely unknown “great illness” and by bad luck the girlfriend fell on a needle and also quickly became a victim. In Africa, Franco surrounded Attention Na Sida. It was one of the most dreaded conditions. The big celebrities we used to look up to as kids have also understood this. Some died while others survived.

It was then that we were informed that it was about HIV and AIDS. There was so much stigma that a slight weight loss or change in skin color and people started avoiding you like the plague. The government has gone into full mode to help people understand how the virus was acquired and to promote the use of condoms if abstinence was difficult to avoid infection.

We pay tribute to Joe Muriuki because despite the stigma associated with HIV, he came out and said he had it. Apparently, this stigmatized his children even when they later joined institutions of higher learning.

The man made us understand that we could live with the disease as long as we took care of ourselves. The sudden death hypothesis was debunked and people with the virus began to have hope again and were able to continue with their daily lives.

REST IN PEACE Joe Muriuki.

— [email protected]; @AineaOjiambo

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