Halimo: Somali Single Mother, Refugee and Person Living with HIV

Kenya - First aid is quickly given to an unconscious woman lying on the floor. The room is dark. Even though she cannot see clearly, the nurse can tell that all is not well by the state of the room. The woman on the floor is Halimo*, a 24-year-old Somali refugee and mother.

A three-month-old baby had been crying for some time while her semi-conscious mother could not do much to help. The baby’s long, loud cries had alerted neighbours that something was not right. When they found Halimo, the neighbours called Rukia Ahmed, a community health worker serving the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi. Unable to carry Halimo and alarmed by her condition, Rukia quickly rang for an ambulance to take the patient to the nearest health facility, IOM’s Eastleigh Wellness Community Health Centre. Eastleigh has a large Somali community.

“Don’t call the police! I do not want to talk to the police. They will return me to the refugee camp. I want to stay in Nairobi for my children to have a better future,” Halimo cried, as she regained full consciousness. Although injured, she did not want to report the gender-based violence that had been inflicted on her.

Three years ago following the birth of her fourth child, Halimo came to Eastleigh from Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. With only 2,000 Kenyan Shillings (USD 20) in her pocket and the hope of finding her husband, who had left Dadaab nearly a year before, Halimo went in search of future economic stability and a better future for her and her children. After searching for her husband in vain, the single mother of four children opened a small shop in order to provide for herself and her children.

“I discovered that I was HIV positive when I was attending the pre-natal clinic at the Eastleigh Wellness Centre. I was devastated and thought that was the end of my life. I cried and cried. There was no consolation for me. The nurse calmed me down and told me that, if I take care of myself, I will live. I could not understand how, all I knew was if you get HIV, you die,” remembered Halimo about her devastation when she was first told her diagnosis.

Through counselling and antiretroviral treatment offered for free at IOM’s Eastleigh Wellness Centre, Halimo has been able to live a happy life. Once a month, she takes part in the Centre’s support group, where people living with HIV/AIDS come together to share experiences and encourage each other to lead a healthy life.

IOM’s Eastleigh Community Wellness Center provides free and non-discriminatory daily healthcare services to the whole community. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and AMREF, Africa's largest International Health NGO, IOM runs a migrant friendly service with interpreters in Somali, Oromo and Amharic languages.

Culturally, HIV/AIDS is a taboo topic in many migrant community households, which further exacerbates the situation. “Encouraging migrants to test for HIV has been difficult but we are now noticing changes on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions. Nowadays, more and more members of the community are coming for voluntary testing, especially the women,” says Triza Wairimu, a counsellor at the Wellness Centre.

*The name of the woman featured in the story has been changed to protect her identity.