AIDS activists call for urgent action in Matebeleland South

by Robert Tapfumaneyi | HIV/AIDS|Zimbabwe Charity, INC (HAZ)

A fact-finding mission to the Matebeleland South Province has called for urgent action to address critical issues and challenges being faced by district hospitals and clinics, whose poor staffing and lack of equipment and resources, are endangering the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Giving feedback to stakeholders after a fact finding mission, Zimbabwe HIV and AIDS Union (ZHAAU) president, Mr. Bernard Nyathi said the tour they took in Matebeland South revealed that the government has to take immediate action on most of the Opportunistic Infections (OI) clinics in the province, to save the lives and improve the health, of people living with HIV and AIDS in the affected areas.

“The situation at most OI clinics has greatly affected people living with HIV and AIDS.  Most of the clinics are short-staffed and in some cases those staffing the clinics lack knowledge.  We call upon the Ministry of Finance to unfreeze posts to alleviate the critical shortage of staff in laboratories, OI clinics and in Pharmacies,” said Mr. Nyathi,
adding that some of the challenges being faced include the need for decentralization of Early Infant Diagnosis testing to avert infant deaths caused by current delays.

Most patients have not had follow-up CD4 counts during the course of their ART, going as far back as 2009, when they were initiated into anti-retroviral therapy (ART).   CD4 counts are only performed on no more than 20 patients, on Mondays only.

There is reportedly no access to viral load machines for a number of the clinics in the province, and some nurses did not even know such machines exist.  Patients are reportedly switched from one ARV regimen to another, with no standard blood tests (CD4 counts, viral loads, liver function tests) ever been conducted.  There is also a lack of access to transportation for a number of the patients who live at great distances from the clinics, and have difficultly making their clinic appointments.  As a result of these factors, many patients are reported to be defaulting on their HIV/AIDS treatment, and are being lost to follow-up.

The fact-finding mission also discovered that in some cases, blood samples are sent to laboratories in Harare, with results only being obtained after 3 to 4 months.  When the results are finally received, there have been a number of occasions where hospitals have received results that do not belong to them.

The 12-member fact-finding team has recommended that ART Management committees be put in place, with representation from people living with HIV/AIDS.   The team also pointed out the urgent need to procure equipment and reagents to facilitate standard but critical tests that go along with the provision of effective HIV/AIDS treatment.

The fact-finding team was made up of members from ZHAUU, the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (ZNNP+), board members from the National AIDS Council (NAC), representatives from the Zimbabwe Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM), representatives from the Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS (MIPA) Technical Working Group, a representative from (People Living with HIV and AIDs Association of Zimbabwe) PLAAZ and also a representative from the Harare Advocacy Committee.  Technical and logistical support was provided by the NAC MIPA Coordinator.

The team visited facilities in Beitbridge, Gwanda, Esigodini, and also the UBH and Mpilo hospitals in Bulawayo.  The team also met with community support groups in each district.

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