Tyra’s working experience while HIV positive

As mentioned in my previous post,HIV positive women are really having it rough at the work place.

I will use my friend Tyra’s experience as the case in point

Recruitment of a HIV positive woman at the workplace in Kenya

Tyra is HIV positive and holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration.

In 2006, Tyra’s friend went for an interview in one of the NGOs in Kenya that provide HIV related services. She passed the interview and was given a reporting date which she was unable to honor as discussed. Therefore she sent Tyra to see if she could be given the job. This is so because the job required immediate expertise of an administrative assistant.


HIV positive and workplace experience

Given that the HR manager did not have another alternative, Tyra was given the job.

This job did in anyway indicate the need for one to disclose their HIV status,so Tyra did not inform the HR person that she was HIV positive before getting this job.

Tyra however begun experiencing challenges in adjusting to the pressure associated with her new assignment.These challenges were somewhat related to some of the ARV side effect Tyra had been experiencing for a while.

Tyra Discloses Her HIV status

The  NGO in question had at that point a good working environment where staff would talk about everything under the sun.Tyra  thus thought  these people were open with each other as they were also HIV positive  since NGOs programs were geared towards  supporting people living with HIV.With this in mind she felt the need  to disclose her status to some of her colleagues.

She thus went around disclosing her status. There are those in the organization who empathized with her, whereas others started stigmatizing her.

Tyra ‘s open declaration of her HIV positive status turned out against her as one of the senior HR manager  openly told her that it was a mistake having recruited  her.

Reason being that the administrative assistant they were looking for was meant to occupy the reception desk at the NGOs front office.In short ,they wanted  a “beautiful” receptionist.

According to this HR person, Tyra’s outlook did not suit a receptionist given that she had lost too much weight, suffered from uneven fat disposition(lypoatrophy) and would at times have mood swings. All these were side effects of the ARVs she was taking at the time.

This HR manager could not look at Tyra’s qualification beyond her HIV positive status. Those of us who took time to know Tyra realized how she had and still has a likeable personality, in addition to being quite intelligent

HIV positive and stigma at the workplace

In most workplaces in Kenya, many employers stigmatize women living with HIV. This was no exception with Tyra.

The HR manager thus decided to relocate Tyra to another division that was equally busy and one whose staff did not engage with the NGOs visitors on a daily basis. This was despite the fact that Tyra was not only qualified for the job, but also has the etiquette required by front office personnel

Tyra rose up to the challenge and in a span of 2 years managed to prove  her efficiency by coordinating two international conferences and handling all the administrative work of close to 30 people.

Tyra’s Frustration at  The Workplace:Dilemna of Being HIV Positive

This did not augur well with some of the staff, Tyra’s peers and other managers who had initially doubted Tyra’s capability to handle tasks assigned.

To frustrate her further, they started to over burden Tyra with tasks meant to be undertaken by other staff in the organization. In my view this was meant to make Tyra give up on the job so that they could give out her position to one of the managers’ relatives.

Guess what, Tyra took this in stride to prove to people that being HIV positive doesn’t not in any way translate to inefficiency. She willingly took up all the additional tasks assigned without being given any salary increment. This move took a toll on her as she had to endure high levels of stress, with minimal support from some of the managers.

Promotion at the workplace and HIV

In 2010, there was a restructuring done in the NGO, which saw some of Tyra’s fellow administrative assistants get salary increments and in other cases promotions. Some of the staff were laid off due to funding restrictions   for some program activities.

Tyra on the other hand only received a meager salary increment.

When she went to discuss this with the senior HR person I have mentioned up above, Tyra was told that she should even count herself lucky not to have been sacked. She was also told that she needed to be grateful as she enjoyed a medical cover and some days off for routine  HIV medical check ups.

Not knowing who else to turn to, Tyra decided to dedicate herself to carrying out tasks assigned to her despite the frustrations plus the toil the side effects of HIV was having on her.

HIV positive Pill Burden Vs Work Performance

In 2011,the government of Kenya decided to reduce the pill burden for those HIV positive by  introducing 1 tablet to be taken once daily(preferably at night).According to the  manufacturers  of the drug, HIV positive  patients are required to take this drug(Effavirenz) on an empty stomach to minimize on the side effects. It is thus expected that all health care providers would take time to explain this to their HIV positive clients.

This is not what Tyra was told when she was being introduced to this drug. She was only asked one question,” at what time do you report to work?”, which she responded by telling that she works between 8am -5pm.The attending clinician did not elaborately take Tyra through some of the side effects of Effavirenz.

Side Effects of HIV  ARVs Vs Work Performance

After 1 week on this new drug, Tyra begun loosing weight, feeling drowsy during day time, in addition to which her concentration span while at work  started deteriorating. As her friend, I started getting scared that the worse might happen to her.

I then asked her how she was taking this drug and whether she was taking them on an empty stomach. She told me that she didn’t know how she was required to take the drug. I shared my concerns with her and requested her to seek permission from her boss so as to go in for a medical advice.

Given that it was a Monday, Tyra decided to work till Thursday before taking an off. Reason being she didn’t want people to use this against her. She got permission from her head of department to take an off day on Thursday so to to go to the HIV clinic.

However while at the doctors office on that particular Thursday, Tyra received several SMSes from her boss asking her to send her some documents. This was so because her boss had gone to supervise the other branches of this NGO.

Tyra sent her a text reminding her that she was at the HIV care clinic  for a medical check up.

Guess what this uncaring boss who had initially approved Tyra’s off day in the first place told her, “I don’t really know what you’ll do to ensure that those documents are sent to me”

Upon hearing what Tyra’s boss told, her I got so frustrated and decided to post this story for all to see the challenges HIV positive women face at the workplace in Kenya.

HIV positive at the workplace in Kenya

Had you been in Tyra’s shoes, what course of action would you have taken?

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HIV Disclosure:Challenges Faced By Women

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