Access to ART: a desperate struggle for survival

joyce_muzondaMUREHWA - Joyce Muzonda is 50 years old, a widow who tested HIV-positive in 2004. For years she failed to get enrolled for antiretroviral drugs but finally managed in 2007 at Murewa Hospital, some 40 km from her home. (Pictured: Joyce Muzonda a 40-km trip for ART)

In order to get treatment she has to travel every month with money she does not have. The government should create mobile clinics where we can obtain drugs. I have skipped taking the drugs and am now troubled by my bulging stomach. I look as if I lift weights if you look at my face closely, she said. Some people are only enrolled in antiretroviral treatment (ART) when they are very sick because the hospital is overwhelmed by the number of patients and the equipment is old and in urgent need of repair.

A Research Officer with SAFAIDS, an organisation that disseminates information on HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), Joshua Chigodora, said some hospitals in the country did not follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on commencement of treatment. WHO recommends that all people with CD4 count of below 350 should go on treatment but it all depends on the person’s condition and circumstances, said Chigodora.

A recent report by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said nurses at government hospitals such as Murewa demanded bribes to enlist people on ART treatment. I used to get cotrimozole, as the hospital was saying the CD 4 count machines were not working. I was finally put on ARVs and that is when I became stronger. I feel safe that I am on the drugs but am concerned by the distance that I travel to get to a hospital, said Muzonda.

She could have lost hope a long time ago but her desire to live and enterprising mentality has seen her going on. I come here to Murewa centre where I sell tomatoes. I can make $3 a day. Meeting with people who are also living with the virus has made me stronger and I am not afraid to reveal my status. I think that has helped me so much.

At Murewa mission people needing X-rays are sent to Musami mission which is about 50 km from the centre. People who do not have money to pay for user fees are sent back home and consequently deprived of their right to treatment. The government is presently working on abolishing user fees but that might be too late for people like Muzonda.. Sometimes when I am sick I fail to get medical attention because of the money that is involved. At the end of the day I only have to survive on ARVs, she says.

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