I have always wanted to read or watch a movie or an article based on life as a househelp. Devious Maids is nice and all but I would love one in the Nigerian setting. I have actually been toying with the idea of writing a monthly or quarterly article based on the treatment of househelps in Nigeria. It would be sort of like “The Househelp Chronicles”. This is my second article on this and if you would like to catch up, please click here. I could never presume or imply that I could ever understand what they go through. But I know it cannot be easy. I hope my articles would only serve to enlighten and encourage people to try to walk a little bit in their shoes. And in this way, try to make life a little better for everyone. This article will address a topic that a lot of us have failed to realize but which I believe needs to be told. Please read on and let me know what you think in the comments below.
When a new househelp is employed, the first thing most people do is a nanny test. For those of us who don’t know, a nanny test involves medical tests done on the nanny which may include HIV, Hepatitis and Pregnancy. Some people use their discretion and still run a few more tests as they deem fit. I see the nanny test as a necessity and more or less the same as regular tests/ medicals done when you get employed by a company for the first time. Just to ensure you are fit and in good medical condition to perform your tasks as related to the job description.
However, I have recently started to believe the househelps may need to start asking for the employers’ medical tests too. I will explain why.
A close friend employed a new househelp recently. This was her first forage into the househelp realm and she had no knowledge of said nanny test. The househelp had been with her for about 2 weeks before she got to know about it and proceeded to get one done.
Unfortunately, she found out that the househelp had HIV. She was very distraught but she knew there was minimal danger of her baby contacting the virus as there has to be an obvious exchange of bodily fluids. The baby was less than 3 months old and had had little contact with the househelp. My friend began to make arrangements to send the househelp away. I personally felt that the househelp needed counseling too. For people who are not really educated, HIV is a big deal to them and some of them believe it is instant death. The girl knew she had HIV but she didn’t know about treatment and she had no idea that people who have HIV can still go on to have a long and normal life with careful diet and constant medication.
I am no expert in counseling. But sometimes, a kind heart, a gentle voice and a listening ear is all that is needed. During the counseling, we asked her if she had any knowledge of how she could have contracted the disease. She said she got it from her former place of work. That shocked me. I instantly assumed she had been raped. She said no, that the whole family had HIV. And she had gotten it from the children. That is, however, a long story for another day. Anyway, the family had won the visa lottery and left her back in Nigeria.
We took her to a HIV counseling clinic and she is now in good hands. Luckily, the Anti-retroviral drugs are free in Nigeria.
But, this whole scenario got me thinking. There are people and children who are living with HIV, Hepatitis and all other sorts of viruses including Ebola survivors. People have different immune systems , some stronger than others and Some people can live a long and healthy life while carrying a virus. Some people can boost a weak immune system with careful diet and the right medication. However, all of these people can still pass on the virus to others who are not as fortunate due to poor diet and/or hygiene, low income and who do not have the opportunity to get treatment.
Househelps are exposed to a lot of risks in the workplace. Househelps look after your home and your children when you are unable to. When you are at work and your kids get hurt, the househelps clean up the blood without gloves or any kind of protection. When the kids poop or vomit, the househelps clean them up. We all know that all sorts of diseases hide in and may be transmitted via blood, poop and vomit.
Some children find a way into the househelps rooms and play with their combs and toothbrushes. Let me not even go into the risk of sexual transmission through the Oga, houseboy, gatemen, neighbor etc. There are all sorts of ways that viruses and other diseases are transmitted from person to person.
It is rather unfortunate that due to how hard life has been for them, most househelps do not have a choice and would never think of asking the employer to guarantee that the employer and family are also of good health.
If the househelp does get Hepatitis or HIV or any other kind of virus from that family, does she get compensation? Will the family give her the same medical treatment that they themselves are getting or would they just dump her in the village when the househelp is no longer useful/beneficial to them. Are househelps also entitled to at least a medical guarantee from the employers?
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