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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK

Aids and the company

Kenya has a phenomenally high rate of Aids and HIV

By Martin Dawes in Nairobi, Kenya

Albert worked at our house for about three years. He is, or was, I should say, a security guard, one of thousands employed by companies who attempt to give householders peace of mind in this crime-ridden society.

But the other day, the end of Albert's working life came a few hours into his shift, with a brutal abruptness. He was found in the garden crying with pain and unable to walk.

His two brothers were with him. They had come to take him to his home village in western Kenya. It's in a region which has a phenomenally high rate of HIV and Aids.

A curse on the living

Under the tribal custom there, if people are not buried at home they haunt the living. Customs like this, at a time when the latest figures say that 435 Kenyans are dying from Aids each day, are a real curse on the living.

Aids Special Report
It would cost around £10 to get a bus ticket and take the still living, but pitiful Albert back to his village. If he died in Nairobi the family would have to stump up around £400 to pay for a coffin, mortuary fees and transport. Small wonder that the brothers had come visiting.

Albert was employed by the British owned Securicor Kenya company. My wife, Alison, drove him to their local branch office. What Albert needed was emergency leave and his wages.

But it soon became clear that there was a problem and a gap in understanding.

The local manager apologised for sending a sick guard. Not the issue. And Alison started to cry with pity and frustration.

For humanity's sake

Later the brothers telephoned asking for help as the company wouldn't release Albert because he was not due leave for another two weeks, and the wages owed to him could not be paid until then.

The sum involved was around £70 - £70 when £400 may be needed within days for his sad homecoming.

Two African managers said they would do their best. For humanity's sake they said.

[ image: Cruel for orphans]
Cruel for orphans
Someone later called the house and lied, saying Albert would that day get the money and be released. He didn't, and he wasn't.

Dramatically, while in the Securicor branch office, he went almost totally blind. Just like that. We heard that he had again gone to hospital.

And how was this achieved? A bicycle was lent by a neighbour, Albert was sat on the pannier, and friends wheeled it along, gently lifted his legs back onto the pedals when they fell off. He was beyond recognising anyone by this stage.

A cruel society

Aids is seldom about one death. His wife, who I was told, spent a lot of time crying at home, will almost certainly have the virus. They have five children, among them a baby.

This is often a cruel society for orphans. Many end up living on the streets.

The headed note paper of Securicor Kenya draws attention to its five British directors by putting an asterix by their names.

After several phone calls to the managing director in Nairobi, which were never returned, Paul Rees, er British, by the way, replied to my letter saying he had ordered an inquiry.

He also said that after further medical treatment Albert had been referred to a hospital near his rural home, and that it had been arranged for a company vehicle to take him there.

An inquiry

Mr Rees promised further details early in the week to my general inquiry about their policies, as a British company, on Aids and the treatment of their local staff.

Well it's the end of my week and it hasn't arrived yet.

They employ thousands of men, most of whom are in the high risk age groups. They must see Aids and its consequences all the time.

I would very much like to know what the company does in this tragic situation, to alleviate the last days of dying employees.

Incidentally Albert is not the guard's real name. He left Nairobi telling friends that he did not have Aids. I wish I could believe that.

Kenya has never addressed the Aids issue properly. The death columns in the newspapers say simply "after a short illness" and the naÔve might wonder what kind of malady would take so many in their prime.

So, for the sake of the 36-year-old man who worked in my house, and for whom I wish I could have done more, I have used a false name.

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