28 April 2014

Zambia: One Man's Struggle to Get HIV Treatment for His Village

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Signs promoting HIV/AIDS awareness.

Osborn Hamilenge is a determined man who cycles more than 30 kilometres from his village in Chaanga, Zambia around five times a month to get HIV medication for friends and neighbours.

Osborn, 52, who is also living with HIV, said a lot of his friends and villagers were dying because they struggled to reach the closest health centre Chikankata Mission Hospital in Mazabuka district and they weren't sticking to their treatment.

"I had to buy my own bicycle," Osborn said, "so that I could cycle to Chikankata. It is very hectic considering my health to cycle through the hilly terrain. Sometimes when I get there, it is late and I have to wait until the following day to access the drugs and start considering the return journey."

Lack of HIV services

Osborn came to know about his HIV status in 2003 after he lost two wives and five children. When the mobile hospital arrived in Chaanga, Osborn was the first to go.

"I wanted to check what was bringing problems to my family. One of my late wives was married to a man who had known that he was HIV positive and he approached me to tell me about his status. I did not object and I did not get annoyed," he said. "I found it difficult to sleep after being told my status. But now I have three children, all boys, who are negative."

But many challenges remain. When Osborn tries to obtain treatment for his friends who can't make it to the hospital the doctors want to get a patient's CD4 count first.

For patients who fail to travel to Chikankata to have their CD4 count checked the doctors will only provide drugs for a month instead of three months. Often, Osborn has to accompany his friends who are not well which can take up to seven hours.

To make matters worse, Osborn is often accused of selling the antiretroviral drugs when it takes too long for the people he collects them for to appear at the hospital.

"The health workers usually get worried because some people are not seen by them for more than nine months so they say I'm selling the drugs. My wife was supposed to have travelled last week but she could not so I was only given drugs for a month," he said.

Seeking treatment

Recently Southern Province medical officers conducted mobile health services near Osborn's home, but the mobile hospital did not have any antiretroviral treatment.

When questioned about the lack of medication available Dr Phallon Mwaba, Siavonga district's community medical officer, said: "We had contracted Chikankata to service the community of Chaanga but we have realized that they have failed and we have resolved that we will take it up with them to provide mobile antiretroviral therapy services. In the second quarter we will begin to service the area."

Osborn has two wives Mavis and Kabuba, and three children. Together with his wives he is working to raise awareness in the community of the importance of seeking treatment, as a lot of people living with HIV had refused to go to the mobile hospital to have their CD4 count checked.

"We are very lucky because the government has provided us with free antiretroviral treatment but when people refuse I can't do anything, it's their life," he said.

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