Patients find hope at Thembelihle Home

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People at an advanced stage of Aids illness are normally viewed as beyond hope. Some health institutions even discharge such people.

However, it is not so at Thembelihle Home in Mpopoma, Bulawayo, which caters for the terminally ill people at whatever stage of their illness.

The home was founded by a group of concerned medical doctors and health personnel from various Bulawayo hospitals in the late 80s after the first HIV patient was identified in Zimbabwe.

In an interview on Thursday, the sister-in-charge at the home Ethel Sibanda said the home caters for patients most of whom are referred by Mpilo, United Bulawayo Hospital and Thorn Groove TB Hospital. Some of them come from Bulawayo City Council Clinics.

“We currently have 12 patients; four women and eight men. Most of them come here bed-ridden and we nurse them until some of them recover, but some don’t make it. We have quite a significant number of people who come out of this place strong and go back to their families,” said Sibanda.

She said among those currently admitted to the centre, five male patients are from South Africa.

Sibanda said even after they are admitted to the centre, the patients still visit clinics and hospitals for medical check-ups and medication as the home gets limited supplies of medicine.

The home assists desperate patients who need special care and cannot be left on their own.

Thembelihle is a relief for the relatives of the patients.

Sibanda as a centre, they sit down with the relatives of the patients and counsel them on how to help patients.
“We advise them that at such a stage, patients need more care and assistance. Some of those who are from South Africa had been rejected by their relatives,” says Sibanda.

She says after meeting relatives and advising them on the need to assist the patients, their relationship with the patients has improved and they now come to visit them at the centre.

Sibanda says patients are treated of any infections and opportunistic diseases such as TB, pneumonia, diarrhea, fungal infections and other ailments.

The centre is also a source for anti-retroviral drugs for the patients.

Sibanda says the home has numerous challenges which have seen services deteriorating.

Those challenges are said to have even affected the number of people admitted to the home.

“In 2008 we had between 20 to 24 patients. In 2009 we had the same figures. In 2010 there were 11 in January, but the number decreased to 6 at the end of the year. This year we initially had 14, but currently we have 12. The decrease in the number of patients might be because of the current crisis we have at the centre” she said.

Sibanda says the home is a non profit community project. She says at some point there had well-wishers who used to donate food, bedding and assisted in paying the staff.

The donors have since stopped donating and the home faces serious crisis. Sibanda says due to the crisis, the staff at the centre have gone for some months without pay and they remain at the centre because they are determined to help the community.

“We have 21 staff members here that we are struggling to pay. We also have the voluntary care-givers who wash the patients’ blankets, dishes and clean the patients’ wards.

These used to be paid by Action Aid and Matabeleland Aids Council $20 per month, but the incentives have since stopped. They really have a crisis at their homes as they are failing to pay their rates” said Sibanda.

She says Mpopoma High School students group called “History Makers” were assisting by sourcing food and other needs for the home. The home also has a garden where they grow vegetables to feed the patients.

Sibanda says they have a serious water crisis at the home especially for gardening.

“We have a nutritional garden which normally helps us if we have water. A well-wisher drilled a borehole for us but it broke down last year and we are unable to restore it. We are appealing to well wishers to chip in and assist us in the chain of challenges that we are facing as we are on the verge of collapse” says Sibanda.

The home also faces a shortage of safety ware for the cleaners and health staff which poses a serious health risk.

When the NewsDay crew arrived at the home, some of the cleaners were washing linen and cleaning without protective gloves.

The crew also observed that the mattresses were old and torn making the patients’ sleep uncomfortable.

The patients expressed their gratitude to the staff at the home who are caring for them at that critical stage.

“We thank these people who take care of us. We are being cared for very well here,” said one patient.

Most of the female patients appeared strong while in the male ward some men were still at a very critical condition and most of them were sleeping. The home has four wards but only two are working.