Political Crisis Deals Aids Sufferers Heavy Blow

TAPIWA Nyamutsime cannot help but reflect on how the year 2008 has been for her and her family.
Light showers are falling as she trudges back home after tilling a small patch of land allocated to her by war veterans in Epworth,


Harare, after lying that she was a staunch supporter of one of the candidates vying for Zanu PF’s provincial chairmanship of the capital on Sunday.
Her $800 000 rent for November, like that of others backing the candidate, was paid for as part of the campaign and vote buying.
However, the benefits from the campaign do not comfort her at all, instead they bring more misery to her and wishes that 2008 comes to an abrupt end.
Nyamutsime, living positively with HIV and Aids since 2001, is bitter that 2008 was a deception in the fight against the pandemic.
She is of the strong view that there is nothing much to celebrate on World Aids Day on December 1.
Nyamutsime blames the hardships she encountered during the course of the year on the political situation in the country, especially the countdown to the June 27 presidential election run-off which was littered with violence reportedly perpetrated by state security agents, Zanu PF militia and war veterans.
The bloody campaign was meant to secure victory for President Robert Mugabe against MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai who had out-polled the veteran leader on March 29, but failed to secure the mandatory votes to win the presidency.
Nyamutsime was one of hundreds of residents of Epworth who were displaced by the political violence. The displacement affected her normal supply of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) from a local clinic and this adversely affected her health.
“My displacement was a challenge,” Nyamutsime said. “I was worried so much, because I needed to register again in Dzivaresekwa where I was staying with relatives to have access to ARVs. I went for some days without a normal supply of the drugs.”
As she was trying to come to grips with her displacement, the government dealt her another heavy body blow.
On June 4, the Social Welfare ministry suspended humanitarian organisations from carrying out their activities.
Among those suspended were HIV and Aids organisations and this affected mostly poor people living with the pandemic, as they were left with no access to free ARVs and food.
The suspension of the organisations pulled back the fight against the scourge at a time when the country’s prevalence rate was declining.  
Zimbabwe boasts of achieving a decline in the HIV and Aids prevalence rate from 18,1% to 15,6% over the past four years. In 2001, the rate was 26,5% and it went down to 18,1% by 2003.
Government hospitals have few supplies of ARVs, while the few humanitarian organisations that were operational could not cope with the large numbers of people who sought assistance.
Most vulnerable people affected were in Manicaland, Mberengwa, Masvingo and some parts of Matabeleland North and South.
The biggest problem that faced people living with HIV and Aids was the lack of food rich in nutrition, a requirement for them before taking their medication.
Emma Kundishora, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society secretary-general, said food was needed for ARVs to work effectively.
“Without a full stomach many of those on ARVs are now choosing to default on their treatment as they cannot cope with the debilitating side effects,” Kundishora said recently in Kadoma where her organisation was donating food.
A 55-year-old woman, Antonia Tsikira, of Rimuka who is living with HIV and Aids, said she had not taken the ARVs for days after failing to secure food and as a result her health had deteriorated.
The government lifted the ban on humanitarian organisations on August 29, but this did not help much as the damage had already been done.Zimbabwe is facing an acute food crisis.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) food-insecure persons in rural and urban areas will be 3,8 million by December.
This is expected to go up to at least 5,1 million people between January and March next year.
The signing of the September 15 political agreement between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and the leader of the smaller formation of the MDC Arthur Mutambara  is yet to bring hope to people infected and affected by HIV and Aids as the parties are still embroiled in arguments on forming the unity government.
The plight of those living with HIV and Aids was worsened by the recent strike by doctors, which saw a number of wards being closed and patients being discharged, at times without treatment.
Moreover, the shutting down of a number of opportunistic infections clinics in Chitungwiza, Harare and Parirenyatwa hospitals, which provided services to people living with HIV and Aids, worsened the situation.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has not helped matters. The maximum daily withdrawal limit of $500 000 is not enough to buy a loaf of bread, let alone ARVs.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have since taken up a case of a woman living with HIV and Aids against the central bank and a commercial bank that denied her access to money in her account she intended to use to buy ARVs.
The woman — whose identity is protected — tested HIV positive in 1998 and used to buy ARVs using bank certified cheques or cash.
However, as from November 18, the price of the ARVs was pegged at $706 million payable in cash at most pharmacies.
With the maximum daily cash withdrawal of $500 000, the woman would have to spend at least 1 412 days (almost four years) withdrawing the total amount required for her drugs. In the meantime the prices would be going up due to the hyperinflation.
Nyamutsime only hopes for the best and that Zanu PF and MDC would stop squabbling and
form an inclusive government immediately. She celebrates World Aids Day in tears and agony, but still optimistic that the government will take their plight seriously.

 

By Wongai Zhangazha