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ZIMBABWE: HIV-positive people dispersed in 'cleanup' operation
July 28, 2005
BULAWAYO - Near a
dumpsite on the outskirts of Gwanda, some 130 km south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's
second city, Mtshumayeli Ndebele, 45, helps his visibly ailing spouse,
Sithandekile, draw closer to a smouldering fire.
The couple are among a dozen people offloaded at the site by police when
they closed down the Hellensvale transit camp. The holding camp, set up
by a coalition of humanitarian and human rights NGOs about 40 km north
of Bulawayo, had provided shelter to hundreds of families left homeless
after the government's controversial crackdown on informal settlements
and markets in urban areas.
Mtshumayeli and his wife said the authorities instructed them to find
their own way to their rural home area.
But the Ndebeles do not have a rural homestead to return to and, to make
matters worse, they are both HIV positive: eviction from their home has
forced them to abandon their antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
"We would get drugs every month from Mpilo hospital, and everything just
looked better for us, but we are no longer able to do that because we
have moved; we are now several kilometres away and have no money for transport
to go and get our consignment," Mtshumayeli told IRIN. "Now, it's like
we are just waiting to die."
Pointing to his wife he said, "She says she feels pains all over her body,
and she has not had decent sleep in the past four days that we have spent
Scores of HIV/AIDS patients whose treatment programmes have been disrupted
find themselves in a similar plight after being forcibly relocated to
parts of rural Zimbabwe.
Health experts warn that most of them will certainly die prematurely because
of the lack of AIDS drugs and inadequate food in the countryside.
According to official figures, Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of
HIV infection, with over 4,500 deaths recorded every week. Estimates indicate
that while almost 21 percent of Zimbabwe's 11 million people are HIV-positive,
only 6,000 receive ARVs.
Moreover, the country is grappling with widespread food shortages and
ongoing drought conditions have slashed agricultural output by 50 percent.
Humanitarian organisations have said up to 4 million people, mostly in
the rural areas, will be in need of food aid this year.
This week church groups and NGOs said they had managed to track down some
of the HIV/AIDS patients and plans were underway to ensure that they received
food, ARVs and support in their new communities.
"We are deeply concerned about the plight of these people, particularly
those with HIV/AIDS," said Pastor Albert Chatindo. "Simple drugs are not
available in rural clinics, let alone ARVs. We have, however, agreed to
assist them with food, and doctors within the church community have also
volunteered to visit them to assess their conditions. We will also be
giving them drugs if we manage to source some."
Chatindo said churches in Bulawayo were already feeding hundreds of people
who had been transferred from the Hellensvale transit camp and abandoned
in various districts in rural Matabeleland, a vast region in southwestern
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) spokesperson Vickey Hawkins said although
the medical NGO was prepared to provide HIV treatment to the displaced,
tracking them down was not an easy task.
"The problem is that we don't know where to find the people who need help,
since they are now scattered all over the country. But we have adopted
those who were resettled in Tsholotsho (northern Matabeleland) and they
are getting treatment," said Hawkins.
She noted that MSF had started a programme to tackle HIV opportunistic
infections at Hellensvale camp, but this had come to an abrupt halt when
the government announced the official closure of all transit camps in
Officials at Mpilo hospital told IRIN that many of the 1,300 patients
on their treatment list had not reported for medical check-ups in the
past few weeks.
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