HWANGE — Thabitha Moyana has been living with HIV since 2005 and her photos — which hang precariously on the walls of her Mpumalanga house in Hwange — seem to reflect a different person. One could hardly believe the photos were taken when she had already tested positive.
But the tables seem to have turned as she is now visibly sick after having stopped her anti-retroviral treatment.
“I had already tested positive, but I was on treatment. COSV (Coordinating Committee of the Organisation for Voluntary Service) (Zimbabwe) used to help me to acquire ARVs at St Patrick Mission and ever since they left I have been struggling to be on treatment and my situation has since deteriorated,” explains Moyana.
COSV is an Italian non-governmental organisation founded in 1968 and has projects in Africa, Europe, South America and Asia.
Moyana struggled to go into the bedroom and collect her photo album and as she went through her photos, she showed this reporter some of the photos taken when she was seriously ill before she was put on ARV therapy.
“I miraculously healed as my immune system responded well to the treatment, but now that I have stopped treatment, I am afraid that I am going back to my condition of the past,” says Moyana, her eyes filling with tears.
Moyana’s dilemma is familiar to many HIV patients in this mining town and the surrounding rural areas. The rural areas are the worst affected because of the distance the patients have to walk to get medical attention.
Another HIV patient Gift Gomano, who was waiting to be attended to at St Patrick’s Mission Hospital, says he has travelled from Lukosi, a relatively distant area from Hwange to collect his ARV drug allocation.
“When COSV was around, we used to get our monthly distribution without hassles, they used to visit our area with hospital staff and the ambulance every month and now they are gone we are facing problems,” says Gomano.
Another patient in the queue is a 12-year-old boy who says he is finding it difficult to access the drugs.
“They used to bring the drugs home and there was this white lady who was very friendly to me. She always encouraged me and now every month I have to miss one school day to collect my medication and I am usually delayed. The nurses do not show care whatsoever,” says the young boy, chocking with emotion.
According to some statics released by Afro AIDS forum, Hwange is listed among small towns with a high prevalence rate of Aids in Zimbabwe. Due to its location, many haulage truck drivers camp overnight in such places like Cinderella where prostitution is rife.
The truck drivers would be en route to Zambia. The other reason is people in the surrounding areas are ignorant about safe sex and other prevention methods.
COSV, which used to run a vibrant HIV project in the area, stopped last year and an official confirmed this.
Another official from the organisation who only identified himself as Reginald, says the project manager has since left and if there is any hope of reviving it, they have to wait for another project manager.
A catholic nun who works as a nurse at St Patrick’s Mission Hospital says the organisation has done a splendid job in helping the affected and infected in the area, but their coffers unfortunately had run dry.
“We had a good working relationship with COSV. They built us the OPI block and installed a new PABX system with extension in every room and ward.
Sometimes they would pay the nurses who accompanied them to their outreach programmes and sometimes the hospital would use their ambulance, but unfortunately they could not continue and the people who suffer most are those who were on medication,” she says.
“The organisation also used to fund home-based care and community groups, and everything faced a natural death when the organisation stopped funding the projects.”
An Aids activist, Mutandwa Masuku, who works for a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) covering the same projects, said the government should continue with the projects when the NGOs leave.
“The government of the day is responsible for the welfare of its citizens, whether they are sick or well. The NGOs are there to assist only. The government should continue the noble projects.
It is disheartening to note that some people have to die because donor funds allocated to a certain project have been spent. People’s lives should not be determined by these projects, they should be the priority,” he says. The situation has been worsened by allegations that provincial hospitals are selling the life saving drugs to private pharmacies.
Health and Child Welfare deputy minister Douglas Mombeshora said: “We suspect officials at the major hospitals have been diverting and selling ARVs meant for the public to private pharmacies where they will later refer hospital patients to buy. This has created an artificial shortage of the drug.”