AIDS drugs only available to the high and mighty

HARARE - A frail-looking Tapiwa Mukondo can hardly sit up straight as he waits for his turn to be attended to by nurses at a government-run clinic in Harare's working class suburb of Kuwadzana.
Mukondo, 33, coughs uncontrollably for some minutes before spitting a mucous-laced liquid into a small

plastic bottle. Although the queue is moving at a snail’s pace, Mukondo has since learnt that patience is a virtue in this business if he is to collect his monthly allocation of life-saving Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs).
But this hope is soon deflated when the nurse on duty becomes the deliverer of bad news – the ARVs had quickly run out.
To his horror, the nurse says the next allocation of ARVs would only be available next month, meaning he has to make do with the traditional herbs that he takes when he fails to get his allocation.
“I know they still have the drugs but the nurses keep them for their friends and relatives. The government must do something about this soon, otherwise poor people like us will simply die,” Mukondo mumbles as he shuffles his way out of the clinic.
Zimbabwe government statistics say at least one in very five of the country’s 12 million people are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
Of these, only a paltry 60 000 people are benefiting from the government’s ARVs programme, leaving the majority to endure a slow and painful march to their early graves. At least 3 000 Zimbabweans die every week because of AIDS-related illnesses.
Much more worrying for poor Zimbabweans is that even those who had been accessing the cheaper-priced drugs have of late been failing to get the drugs as nurses and health care workers at government hospitals and clinic reserve the drugs for their friends and relatives.
Only a handful of Zimbabweans can afford the more expensively priced drugs from private pharmacies where a monthly course costs about Z$12 000 (revalued), which is many times the salary of an average factory worker.
Zimbabweans are battling a severe economic crisis most critics blame on President Robert Mugabe’s mismanagement of the economy.
The nation’s health delivery system, once revered as one of the best in southern Africa, is in shambles after years of mismanagement and under-funding.
With 80 percent of Zimbabweans living below the poverty datum line, buying ARVs from pharmacies remains a pipedream.
AIDS activists in Zimbabwe say health care workers are taking advantage of the high demand for ARVs by charging patients a “fee” for them to access the drugs.
“If you don’t pay the fee, they will tell you that the drugs are out of stock. In the end, we pay because it’s us who suffer,” says Tryphine Mungoni, of the Zimbabwe Network of People Living Positively With AIDS (ZNPP+).
Mungoni, who was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on “Accessing Anti-Retroviral Treatment in Zimbabwe,” held in Harare recently, said the health care workers were now demanding “cuts,” (a euphimism for a bribe) of as high as Z$2 000 for a month’s stock.
The executive director of the Community Working Group on Health, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to promote primary health care in Zimbabwe, Rusike accused government ministers of plundering the AIDS drugs for their own use.
“To tell the truth, many people are not accessing ARVs, especially in farming communities and remote rural areas. But what is surprising is that known AIDS-infected government ministers and officials are still going strong,” said Rusike.
Earlier this year, there were reports that Mugabe’s ministers and senior ruling ZANU PF party officials, who are believed to be infected with HIV, were grabbing AIDS drugs which were meant for the poor in government hospitals. Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa, said the government was working with the private sector as well as NGOs to ensure that more people accessed ARVs.
“The government is doing everything possible under the present circumstances. You know, our economy is not doing well so sectors such as health are not being spared,” he said.
But Parirenyatwa’s assurance that the government was “doing everything possible” might come too late for Mukondo and many other Zimbabweans who are not well-connected with the mighty and powerful to access ARVs. – ZimOnline

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