Imagine being blind, raped and in the process, got pregnant and after giving birth, you get to know you and your new-born baby have contracted HIV.
This is not a tale told in a movie, it is the sad story of a 44-year-old blind woman, Hajara Laila, (not her real name) who was raped by an unknown man some months ago here in Accra.
Vulnerable and struggling to survive, Hajara Laila laid bare her chilling story to GHOne News’ Alice Aryeetey.
For more than 30 years, 44-year-old Laila has been living with visual impairment.
Laila went blind between the ages of 10 and 11 after getting an eye infection, what is termed locally as “apolo”, but her mother, who also got blind six days before she (Laila) was born, could not help save her sight.
Although life has not been rosy, her life had meaning, until that fateful day when she was raped by someone she had no idea about.
The unknown man forcefully had sex with her. “I did not go to the hospital afterwards because I did not think I would conceive, but even after realizing I was pregnant, I did not want to abort the innocent baby and I cannot also figure out who he is”, said Laila.
According to her, two months after the rape incident, she noticed some changes in her body and visited the hospital for a check-up; only to be told she was pregnant and had contracted HIV.
Laila is convinced she contracted HIV from her rapist because she had not been diagnosed previously with the condition.
Two weeks ago, she gave birth to a bouncy baby girl, who unfortunately was diagnosed with HIV.
Health experts have indicated HIV can be transmitted from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy – when the foetus is infected by HIV crossing the placenta, or through an infected mother’s cervical secretions or blood or during breastfeeding.
Although there are interventions to prevent mother to child HIV transmission through several strategies which cover the entire period from pregnancy to infant feeding, Laila did not notice she was pregnant at an early stage and started antenatal at a point when the foetus had already been infected.
Drowned in tears, she said she used to beg for alms in vehicles and was a member of a physically challenged singing band that sang at vantage points to make a living for herself.
But now, she had to stop and stay home to take care of her baby and herself, amid untoward hardship.
“Life has been really tough for me because I have never known peace nor joy in my entire life. The one who could have supported me is my mother, but she is also blind and incapacitated. Food, clothing and proper shelter have eluded us, even where I live now is not safe,” Laila said sadly.
Approximately six women are likely to be raped every week, according to a six-year statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service released in 2017.
Crime rate across the country, according to the Ghana Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) also increased marginally in the first quarter of 2018.
These staggering figures and the sad story of Laila, makes one wonders what the Department of Social Development under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social protection have been doing to ensure the safety of women, especially the more vulnerable ones with some forms of disability.
According to the Director of the Social Welfare Department, Gbeawu Daniel Y. Nonah, the best thing to have been done by the raped blind woman was to report to the police for the criminal to be arrested, but since she is not able to identify the rapist, that will be difficult.
“Most at times, when people have challenges, they need to go to the social welfare office to tell them about the problem they are facing, then whatever we are able to do to assist the person we do that.
“At times we do referrals (because) we might not have money so at times we put such needy persons on TV for people to help in difficult situations or send them to the destitute infirmary at Ashanti Bekwai. For her children or child, what we sometimes do as Social Welfare department is to take the children from the parents and keep them temporary until the parents are able to find their feet to be able to cater for them then we give them back to the parents,” said Mr Nonah.
Human Rights Lawyer, Francis Xavier Sosu, is not enthused about the handling of most vulnerable persons in society. As the founder of the Treasure of Life Foundation, with the aim of providing help to the vulnerable in society, he hopes to find some help for Laila, but not without some challenges.
“Why would someone even attempt or go ahead to rape a blind woman? That’s the first question, and it tells you how the moral fibre of our society has broken down completely. These stories are untold stories, if you are there, you may think they never exist but we have very wicked people in our society and that’s how come someone will go ahead to rape a blind woman and in the process leave her with HIV/AIDS, and because she did not have all the counselling and support from the beginning, she goes ahead to deliver a baby who is HIV positive”, he stated.
The human rights lawyer added that every single life counts, hence the state should be interested in every life.
Xavier Sosu, who has in the past helped many vulnerable people get justice in society said he would have ensured the assailant ends up in jail, but unfortunately, the victim cannot identify the rapist.
He is, therefore, courting for support for the blind woman and the child to help get them out of their current condition of hardship.
Laila and her new-born baby now live on antiretroviral drugs daily for survival, while battling financial and economic hardships. She said her life will be much better with a safer and better accommodation as the wooden structure in which she lives with her baby, puts her at risk daily.
She also hopes to join a singing band or form one again with her musical instruments, which are being kept somewhere for her by a Good Samaritan.
With a soothing silky voice, Laila, who receives some guidance from an HIV/AIDS model of hope, anticipates help will find her and her unborn baby soon.