Stop suffering in silence

BY BRIGHTON CHIREKA LONDON - A year ago, the body of a Zimbabwean was found almost totally decomposed. This unfortunate had been living alone and died in his sleep. He had no friends or relatives here. His body was only found a couple of weeks after he had died, when a strange smell started comin

g from his house.

A few months ago I met another fellow countryman who was very ill but had not sought medical treatment because his visa had expired. He feared that if he went for treatment, the home office would discover him, and deport him. I know that there are many Zimbabweans who are suffering in silence and have no one to turn to. But there is a big community of Zimbabweans here. As with many things in life, there is wisdom in recognizing what we can do for ourselves and where we need help from others. I hope my experience will help to alleviate some of the suffering being faced by our community.

Some asylum seekers feel they are a disappointment to their parents and live with a feeling of guilt. Their parents and relatives expect them to send money home. They dont seem to understand the problems they face. It is important that people back home are fully aware of the situation here.

A London-based funeral company is repatriating at least 20 bodies a month to Zimbabwe. The average cost is around £2000 and many of us cannot raise this money at short notice. What makes the situation very sad is that some people do not take advantage of the free treatment in this country. I am not implying that people do not die if they seek medical treatment, but some deaths can be prevented. I hope it is common knowledge that everyone has to be registered with a local general practitioner (GP). This can be difficult as there are waiting lists in some areas.

There are organizations which offering free HIV testing and treatment. But many Zimbabweans are scared of going for tests for fear of either meeting a health professional from Zimbabwe working there, or the stigma associated with being an AIDS victim. I would like to reassure everyone that confidentiality is guaranteed in the national health services and any health professional who breaches that trust, risks being struck off the register. People should feel free to go and get tested for HIV because counseling and confidentiality is guaranteed and treatment is available, which can prolong ones life.

Although there is no cure for AIDS at the moment, there is treatment available which can alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life. People should not delay in seeking medical treatment because if a disease is diagnosed in its early stages, the outcome in most conditions is good. Everyone has a right to health, regardless of his or her immigration status so there is nothing to fear.

There is no reason why refugees who are allowed to work should not have funeral policies here in the UK. There are funeral insurance companies that offer packages that carry out repatriation to any county in the world. The premiums are affordable spread over five years and you will get your money back if you decided to cancel.

So many Zimbabweans feel isolated and hopeless because they have no one locally to talk to. They spend most of their time at work or phoning people in Zimbabwe who are always asking for more money. Some of these people end up in hospital suffering from depression. This suffering in silence can be ended if people become aware that we are now a big community.

We now have Zimbabwean-based churches for those who are religious. I attended one church in Birmingham last week and felt at home. It made me forget all my problems and I encourage all of you to find a church near you to attend. You are always welcome in the house of God.

We are also losing friends and relatives in Zimbabwe and many of us cannot go back home to pay our last respects. It is difficult to grieve alone and come to terms with the loss when we are thousands of miles away. Local religious groups and friends will help us in the grieving process.

A problem shared is problem solved. There are people out there who are prepared to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. I encourage you to find an organization and get involved.

We should not allow ourselves to suffer in silence. We can help each other as a community and we should not isolate ourselves. Some people might be wondering how to get hold of some of the organizations. Just email me and I will gladly signpost you. [email protected]

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