Nightmare of wrong HIV test results and long legal battle

Tuesday, August 16 this year was an ordinary day for Mr Mutunga Katia.

Mr Katia, 36, was whiling away time at the local pub that evening when he got a notification on his mobile phone. It was an email from his lawyer, Steve Luseno.

Brief and to the point, the lawyer broke the news that the court had just delivered a judgment that afternoon. Mr Katia had been awarded Sh8,000,000 in damages after a long-running court case.

Ordinarily, such news would excite its recipient. But not Mr Katia — and for a good reason. That Tuesday marked an end to a long drawn-out legal battle between him and the Seventh Day Medical Health Services that started back in 2005.

But Mr Katia’s 12-year nightmare started back on February 3, 2004. He was then aged 24. The previous night, he had shared not just a sumptuous meal with his parents, but also some good news.

“I have been confirmed for full employment,” he recalls having told them. They were thrilled.

An accomplished coder in the then nascent information technology sector, Mr Katia had just been offered permanent employment and put in charge of a department, six months into the job.

All that was needed was a full medical report which, by any standards, is a routine requirement for most companies before new employees are enlisted for medical cover. But not for Mr Katia.

When he decided to go to an AAR hospital for the tests, his father offered to drop him off at a different health facility near Kilimani area on his way to work. He agreed. The health facility was Seventh Day Medical Health Services opposite Integrity Centre.

“I used to work on Loita Street (in Nairobi) so I thought ‘why not’, since I’d later stroll back to work,” he recalls.

Inside the facility, he found an elderly husky man who was the doctor on duty. He handed him the medical check list that had been prepared by his employer.

And, with his usual cheery attitude, Mr Katia did not ask any questions and did as instructed. X-ray here. Blood drawn there. A touch here; everything happened quickly. And within minutes, the session was over.

“I’ll send the results to your employer. That is the procedure,” the doctor told him.

So, Mr Katia left the facility all smiles and sauntered into the office.

Everything went on well until a few days later when he overheard a conversation between two young women who worked at the human resource department.

Ako na ukimwi (he has Aids),” one told the other. Back then, it was common for people to confuse HIV with Aids and vice-versa.

“Moments later, I stormed the HR department demanding to be shown my results. They declined so I went back to the health facility,” he says.

Mr Katia admits that he had made a few “mistakes” along the way. But he was not prepared for the news. “The doctor did not even offer any counselling; he bluntly told me ‘you are HIV positive’,” he recalls.

Disoriented, Mr Katia took off towards the Department of Defence offices on Argwings Kodhek road, assuming he was heading back to the office. 

ATTEMPTED SUICIDE

“One thing that was running through my mind is how I had let down my parents. Like ‘my mother gave birth to one son and that son has infected himself’,” he says.

A few hours later, he managed to get back to the office to collect his stuff.

“I attempted suicide by jumping in front of a truck on Uhuru Highway but the driver braked just in time and saved my life,” he says.
Later, Mr Katia walked home near Yaya Centre and never uttered a word to anybody.

He quit his job and started freelancing. “I started binge drinking; any money I got went into buying liquor,” he says.

He stopped being intimate with his then girlfriend and when she nudged, he suggested that she should get tested.

“Her results came back negative and when I told her mine had come out positive, she dumped me amid insults,” he says.

And, as fate would have it, the Strathmore and Utalii alumnus contracted tuberculosis, although he was unaware.

“My neck was so swollen that I was always in a turtle neck T-shirt when people were around me,” he says. “One day my mum saw my neck and she broke down.”

The following day, his mother offered to drive him to the Nairobi Hospital for a checkup.

“I was seen by a Dr Ngina who did a test and said I had TB. When she recommended an HIV test, I refused and confided in her that I knew my status. She insisted and I complied,” says Mr Katia.

When the first test came back negative, Mr Katia was stunned.

“I asked for a second test and it was also negative,” he says.

He requested for a full medical test which was done.

“When I took the new results to the doctor who had tested me first and returned the HIV positive results, he insulted me,” he says.

“I escalated the matter to his superiors and a doctor there offered me Sh10,000, which I turned down.”

Mr Katia complained to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board who conducted an inquest.

The board had him tested for HIV at various health facilities, including at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri). After four years, the board ruled that both the doctor and the SDA facility were negligent.

In a letter dated February 20, 2009, the KMPDB chief executive Daniel Yumbya also said an inquiry committee established the doctor had taken out a private licence.

“The committee adopted the report of the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board that the facility had no capacity to perform HIV testing, had no licence from the board and was not licensed or accredited and or approved by the KMLTTB,” Dr Yumbya said.

And in 2009, Mr Luseno filed a case at the High Court, which was ruled in Mr Katia’s favour in 2011.

In the ruling, Justice John Mwera found the clinic operated in Nairobi by the Seventh Day Adventist Church liable for giving false HIV test results to Mr Katia, and that he ended up “suffering prejudice and losing a job”.

The culpable “doctor” would be relieved of his duties and later die in his rural village in Kisii, leaving the Seventh Day Medical Health Services as the sole defendant.

“The defendant denied all the claims put up by the plaintiff in rather a plain and vague manner as opposed to the plaintiff’s specific averments,” the judge ruled in 2011.

“The Medical Board report, which was not appealed against or put on review, is clear on its findings in this respect. To have litigation proceed expeditiously this court considers the issue of liability against the defendants disposed of,” he added.

Mr Katia had to wait for five more years before the court awarded him the Sh8 million in damages. But has the award given him closure? “Yes, but I’ll never forget how a quack put my life to a stop for 12 years.” And what next? “I am waiting for the award and I have it all planned out. My priority will be to boost my farming business.”

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